After 20 hours of interrogation spread over two days, M. Sivasankar, the former principal secretary to Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, whose name has been linked to the prime accused in the Kerala gold smuggling case, left the headquarters of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) at Kochi by 8.45 pm on Tuesday (July 28) and set off to Thiruvananthapuram where he lives.
Highly placed sources say that despite hours of grilling, the NIA has not got anything linking him or chief minister’s office to the gold smuggling case.
Sivasankar was summoned by the NIA under section 160 of CrPC. The interrogation that started by 10 am on Monday (July 27) lasted till 7.30 pm. He stayed in a hotel in Kochi and the session resumed at 10 am on Tuesday. The camera crews of the entire Malayalam media had been camping at the NIA office since Tuesday, airing plenty of speculations regarding the civil servant’s role in the case and a possible arrest. However, putting an end to the nerve-cracking moments of waiting, Sivasankar came out of the office of NIA at 8.45 PM and went back home.
Relief for Left leaders, CM ‘unbothered’
It was a moment of relief for Left leaders who have been striving to build a narrative that could detach the chief minister from the controversy. No evidence connecting Sivasankar to the illegal cargo of gold has surfaced till date. But, it has been found that Sivasankar had very close personal ties with the first and second accused in the case-Sarith and Swapna Suresh. While Sivasankar has not denied the same, it has come to the fore that he played an undesirable role in getting Swapna on board in the Space Park project under the department of Information Technology when he was secretary.
The finding of the same by a two-member committee consisting of the chief secretary and additional chief secretary appointed by the chief minister, led to the suspension Sivasankar.
The chief minister continues to be defiant and appears to be confident and cool. He repeats that any investigation by any agency is welcome. However, the party leadership is not as cool as Vijayan as they have been struggling hard to defend the government in primetime debates in channels.
While the revelation that Sivasankar was key to the appointment of Swapna Suresh put the CPI(M) leaders on the back foot, they are now taking a safer route. They have built up the narrative that the complicity of civil servants in cases has no connection with the chief minister and that such instances have occurred before and no had quit his position for the same.
“PC Alexander was the Principal Secretary to Rajiv Gandhi when the espionage case surfaced. His secretary was involved, but did the prime minister resign?” asks MB Rajesh, a former Lok Sabha Member of CPI(M).
No breakthrough yet
The investigation into the gold smuggling case has achieved no significant breakthrough yet. The case is being probed by three agencies at a time – The Customs, NIA and the Enforcement Directorate. Apart from the arrest of 15 people who are probably smaller players of a big deal, NIA has not yet been able to arrest the major players. Fasil Fareed, the sixth accused in the case on whose behalf the consignment was sent from UAE through the diplomatic channel is still at large. NIA has requested the Interpol to issue a blue corner notice against Faisal Fareed. A warrant of arrest has been issued at his local address in Kerala as well.
Though Swapna Suresh and Sarith have made many revelations with regard to the involvement of the Consulate General in the smuggling, the investigating agencies seem to have decided not to proceed in that direction. The curious case of the gunman of the Consulate General who went missing and then tried to commit suicide also gives a strong indication that the diplomatic route was not as clean as it was expected to be. Anyhow, the investigating teams seem to have decided to keep the diplomat away. The documents submitted by NIA in the court at different times is a pointer to this. For example, the FIR filed by NIA on July 10 stated that ‘the consignment was camouflaged in diplomatic baggage from UAE’. Customs also had the same wordings in the remand request of Sarith filed in the court. This was one of the points of debates raised by the Left circle to put BJP in defence as the ruling party is answerable to the ‘dirty business’ being carried out through diplomatic channel. However, in all the case records submitted later, this has been changed as ‘consignment camouflaged as diplomatic baggage’.
In the remand application of Swapna Suresh submitted on July 24, NIA reportedly says that ‘the accused deliberately used the diplomatic baggage of UAE as a cover to their illegal activities which may even have serious repercussions in the diplomatic relationship with the Government of UAE’.
The premise of the NIA investigation is the suspected terrorist link into the whole affairs of smuggling. The idea is that this smuggled gold is being used for funding terrorist activities. NIA is yet to bring an effective link to establish this argument of terrorist funding. The delay in the arrest of Fasil Fareed also makes things difficult for the investigating agencies especially NIA as this cannot be a simple case of gold smuggling for them. There are many takers to the argument that the entry of NIA into a gold smuggling has political motives.
“The ‘suspected offence’ is referred as ‘conspiracy and commission of terrorist act by raising funds through gold smuggling to threaten the economic security of India’ in the FIR. “This is primarily a case of smuggling. The terrorist link is required to be established in the course of the investigation. How can the First Information Report have the description of an offence of suspected terror link?,” says VT Reghunath, former Sessions Judge and a practising lawyer in the High Court. Reghunath has been a defence lawyer in NIA court since a few years. He holds the view that the ‘suspected terror link’ is brought only to bring the case under NIA’s jurisdiction.