Kochi: The sensational diplomatic gold smuggling case in Kerala is taking a fresh turn every day. The latest development is a statement by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in the state Legislative Assembly that no bag was missed during his official trip to Dubai in 2016.
However, it is pointed out that the Chief Minister’s announcement in the House contradicts the statement given by M Sivasankar - his principal secretary during the trip - to the Customs officials investigating the smuggling case.
Incidentally, Customs initially learnt about the bag from Swapna Suresh and P S Sarith, two among the accused in the smuggling case. They told Customs that Sivasankar had sought their assistance to send an important bag that was inadvertently left behind in Kerala when Pinarayi travelled to Dubai. Both Swapna and Sarith worked for the UAE Consulate in Thiruvananthapuram at that time. According to them, the bag contained currency notes.
During his interrogation by the Customs, Sivasankar confirmed that the Chief Minister’s team had forgotten to take a bag to Dubai. Sivasankar had claimed in his statement that the bag contained mementos made with Kerala spices by a local artist and they were to be presented to various dignitaries in the UAE.
“Before the Chief Minister’s trip, only one memento was ready. We wanted to send another three or four mementos and considered how they could be taken to Dubai without delay. Then we remembered an offer by UAE’s consul general in Kerala for any assistance and decided to seek the diplomatic route,” Sivasankar told Customs officers.
He also explained the reasons for the decision: “In fact, the decision was taken by all state government officials involved in the Chief Minister’s tour. We felt that dispatching a bag containing important items by courier was not proper. Similarly, sending a state government official to Dubai with the bag involved several procedures, which would have caused a delay. So, we finalised the diplomatic route, which was a smooth affair.”
Sivasankar also told Customs that he was not aware who had carried the bag from the UAE consulate to Dubai. “Anyway, the bag reached Dubai before the Chief Minister’s official programmes,” said Sivasankar.