Thiruvananthapuram: The police headquarters kept the Crime Branch in the dark, even as the investigation agency was locked in a legal battle with the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in the High Court.
The Crime Branch has been probing the ED for allegedly pressuring a key accused in the diplomatic channel gold smuggling case to falsely implicate the chief minister.
Even as the State government was reiterating in the High Court that no ED official was summoned as part of the case, a Customs official had been sitting at the office of the Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) in Kochi for hours on Wednesday. He was summoned over the phone in connection with an alleged assault bid.
Neither the Crime Branch nor its counsel at the High Court was aware of the development at the DCP's office. Senior officers of the Crime Branch, which came to know of the DCP’s summons only by evening, minced no words with the State Director General of Police Loknath Behera, it is learnt.
The Crime Branch was proceeding with caution after it came to know that Behera had confided in senior Central Home Department officials that he was opposed to registering a case against the ED. Still, the DCP’s move caught the Crime Branch unawares.
The police headquarters had intelligence that ED might file a counter-case against Crime Branch officers, senior officials who conspired against the Central agency, and those who had deposed against it. The possibility of a counter-case made a few officers to change their minds, and they refrained from signing the relevant orders to register more cases against ED, as directed by the government.
Instead, junior superintendents were made to send letters in this regard. Sensing the change in the officers, the Crime Branch was maintaining utmost caution.
The High Court was hearing the ED's petition that requested the quashing of the Crime Branch case against it. The first case was based on a report by Superintendent of Police Bijumon, who checked the veracity of audio clips which contained the purported conversation of lady police officers.
The government submitted before the court that no one had been arraigned as accused in this case.
Counsel for the Central government, however, informed the court that DCP (Kochi) Aishwarya Dongre had summoned Customs Assistant Commissioner Lalu to meet her on Wednesday morning. The State government denied the charge, and its advocates asked the Crime Branch headquarters if it had summoned someone. The Crime Branch replied in the negative after confirming it with all its units.
The government reiterated in the court that no one had been summoned, unaware that Lalu was still in the DCP's office.
Lalu was summoned in connection with an assault attempt on Assistant Protocol Officer (General Administration) M S Harikrishnan during an interrogation in the gold smuggling case. The Customs officer was not served a written summons, but was called over the phone.
The police headquarters did not inform the Crime Branch of the summons. The Crime Branch came to know of it only in the evening.
Office-bearers of the Kerala Secretariat Association lodged a complaint with the DGP in early January, saying the Customs had mentally harassed and tried to assault the Assistant Protocol Officer, M S Harikrishnan. The Association sought a comprehensive probe into the incident.
In a letter to Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan demanded a probe by the Center into the incident. Deviating from the normal procedure, the complaint was not forwarded to the Crime Branch. When the charge against ED snowballed into a controversy, the complaint was handed over to Assistant Director General of Police Vijay Sakhare.
Sakhare forwarded the complaint to the DCP, who summoned the Customs official without even recording the statement of the complainants, that too on the day on which the High Court took up the ED's petition for hearing.