Kochi: Even hardened criminals possessing damning secrets may open up when they are in the custody of seasoned investigators. Investigators would not have found it a challenge to make Swapna Suresh, a key accused in a major gold and dollar smuggling case, to spill the beans on the role of top political authorities in the Kerala government in the crime.
The Customs, probing the gold smuggling case, on Friday stated that Swapna had made ‘shocking revelations’ against Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, Speaker P Sreeramakrishnan and some ministers over the 'smuggling' of foreign currency.
Reports on the role of VIPs in the smuggling had come out last year itself as Swapna and her aides were interrogated soon after their arrest in the wake of Customs bust of gold smuggling at the Trivandrum International Airport. A multi-agency probe was initiated after the Customs seized 30 kg gold from a diplomatic baggage addressed to the UAE Consulate in Thiruvananthapuram in late June.
Swapna was questioned several times by various agencies, including the National Investigation Agency (NIA), from July 2020. But what would have prompted her to reveal the names of higher-ups, including her close associate bureaucrat M Sivasankar, by last December during the course of the interrogation?
Swapna herself gave a convincing reason for giving up on the significant personalities who were very much in the know about the shady deals being carried out through the UAE Consulate in the Kerala capital.
When the Customs officials questioned, she reportedly said: "When I came face-to-face with (former Principal Secretary to the CM) M Sivasankar at the court one day, he turned away and behaved like a stranger. Then I felt isolated. Also, with Sivasankar being jailed, I realised that things were getting out of hand."
According to a copy of an affidavit submitted by the Customs to the Kerala High Court, Swapna has given a confidential statement to the probe agency claiming the CM had direct contact with the UAE Consul General and had financial dealings with him.
Even court was privy to the names of the key men suspected to be involved in the racket as the investigating agencies apprised it regularly, but it was only on Friday, March 5, the Customs affidavit naming the Kerala Chief Minister himself came out in the public. So far the only big fish who was identified openly was the Legislative Assembly Speaker P Sreeramakrishnan.
From the beginning itself, Swapna had reportedly got strict instructions that she should not give statements that would lead the probe in the gold smuggling case to Sivasankar or his higher-ups. Also, Swapna had complained that some people who visited her in jail had threatened her. The Customs reckons that there was substance in Swapna's complaint and that this insecurity could have led her to give confidential statements over the high connections.
Disclosures after Nov 25
The Customs informed the High Court that Swapna made disclosures about the role of top politicians in high posts in the state government when she was questioned in custody from November 25.
Swapna deposed that she faced threats in jail and was under pressure not to reveal their names. Swapna was in a frightened state. She said she was threatened she would have to face the consequences and that she was denied the facilities for detainees of COFEPOSA (Conservation of Foreign Exchange and Prevention of Smuggling Activities Act).
She told the probe officer that she wanted to give a petition to the authorities over the threats she faced at the jail. As per this, the petition was handed over to the probe officer on November 30. She complained that she was being harassed in jail and she was not being allowed to talk to even her children.
After the jail authorities came to know that statements were given against the higher-ups while in custody, the Customs officials were prevented from talking to Swapna.
When a request was made to the officer in charge of the women's prison, the Jail DGP had given instructions that the presence of Customs officials could not be permitted.
Swapna made a submission to the Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate on November 30, stating that she wanted to give a confidential statement. As per his directives, the first-class magistrate recorded the statements over several days, the Customs said.
In the statement submitted in the court, the Customs said that most of the facts revealed were known only to Swapna and that only she can give evidence.
The Customs also informed that the statement given to the magistrate and the statement recorded, as per the Customs rules, would be submitted in a sealed cover during the final hearing and whenever the court instructs.