Kochi: The Kerala High Court on Friday reserved judgement on a plea by the Enforcement Directorate, seeking to quash the FIR against its officials by Kerala police for allegedly forcing Swapna Suresh, key accused in the gold smuggling case, to give statements against Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.
The court, while permitting the crime branch to continue its probe, directed that no coercive action be taken against the ED officials in the case.
In its plea, the ED alleged that the FIR was registered against its unnamed officials with the "ulterior motive of derailing the statutory investigation" under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) into a large economic offence of smuggling of huge quantities of gold.
The ED prayed that the FIR be quashed or the probe be transferred from the state police to the CBI to ensure an impartial investigation, "because certain highly placed persons are involved in the case."
The central agency also wanted the court to stay all further proceedings pursuant to the FIR against ED officials and direct no coercive action against the officers of the Enforcement Directorate, "who are performing their official duties" under the PMLA 2002, pending disposal of the petition.
The ED also submitted that the preliminary enquiry allegedly conducted by the state police was clearly a farce.
The Crime Branch registered the case on March 17 on the basis of a report filed by its team which was probing the leak of a voice clip, purportedly belonging to Suresh.
According to the FIR, the ED officials probing the gold smuggling case while questioning Swapna Suresh on August 12 and 13, 2020, forced her to give false statements against the chief minister in order to fabricate evidence.
The Crime Branch case was registered under Section 120-B (criminal conspiracy), 167 (public servant framing an incorrect document with intent to cause injury), 192 (fabricating false evidence), 195-A (threatening any person to give false evidence), among others, of the Indian Penal Code.
Suresh, a former employee of the UAE consulate here, is the prime accused in the case relating to the smuggling of 30 kg of gold worth Rs 14.82 crore in diplomatic baggage and now under judicial custody since her arrest.
In a voice clip purported to be that of Suresh circulated a few months ago, it was alleged that some ED officials had threatened her while she was being interrogated at the agency office in Kochi in August 2020 to give statements against Vijayan and some ministers.
Later, two women civil police officers, who had been with Suresh when she was questioned by the ED, also reportedly claimed they had heard the ED officials forcing her to name Vijayan.
Besides the ED, the Customs and the National Investigation Agency are also probing the smuggling of gold through the diplomatic channel.