M Sivasankar, Kerala Life Mission Scam,
A part of the chargesheet sounds contradictory to the charges levelled against Sivasankar and supports the claim he has made in his special leave petition in SC | File photo: PTI

Kerala Life Mission scam: ED chargesheet omits UAE consulate official’s statement

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The chargesheet filed by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) on April 23 in a special court in Kochi in the Kerala LIFE Mission scam has a glaring omission.

The Federal has a copy of the 4,000-plus-page ED chargesheet, which does not have the statement of Khaled Mohamed Ali Shoukry, one of the accused named in the chargesheet. The ED has submitted that Shoukry has fled the country and the investigation of his role should be carried out abroad.

Shoukry, an Egyptian national who was the financial head of the UAE Consulate in Thiruvananthapuram, was accused of playing a conduit in siphoning off $1,90,000 out of the country. The money was generated out of commissions paid to the accused, including M Sivasankar, former principal secretary to the Kerala chief minister, and Shoukry to award contracts to Unitac Builders’ Managing Director Santhosh Eapen’s firms, says the chargesheet.

ED’s case

The ED has built the whole case around the seizure of Rs 1,00,50,000 from bank lockers linked to Swapna Prabha Suresh, accused number two in the money-laundering case. Shoukry allegedly handed over the money to Sivasankar.

The chargesheet states that Sivasankar received “illegal gratification” for facilitating the award of contract LIFE Mission project at Wadakkanchery, sponsored by the UAE Red Crescent Authority, to the firms related to Eapen, the fifth accused in the case.

Also read: Sivasankar’s arrest: Congress, BJP slam Left govt; seek CM’s reply

The ED has alleged that Rs 64 lakh was parked in a bank locker of State Bank of India’s Thiruvananthapuram branch and Rs 36,50,000 in another locker in the Federal Bank, both of which were seized by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in the gold smuggling case of 2020. The ED sees this amount as the kickback taken by Sivasankar for helping Unitac Builders and Developers win the contract.

The 11 accused

According to the chargesheet, there are 11 accused in the case, with Sivasankar being on top of the list. Swapna Prabha Suresh, a prime accused in the 2020 gold smuggling and related cases, has been arraigned as accused number two.

Sarith PS, a former employee of the UAE Consulate and Swapna’s close associate, Shoukry, Sandeep Nair H, another associate of Swapna, Yedu Surendran, Eapen, and Vinod PV, a partner in the Sane Ventures, are the other accused arraigned in the case, along with Unitac Builders and Developers, Sane Ventures, and Isomonk Trading Company.

The chargesheet is based on the statements of 32 individuals, including the accused recorded by the ED, from which Shoukry’s name as one of the key accused has been omitted.

Charges against Sivasankar

The chargesheet further states that it is clear from the statements of both Sarith and Swapna that “Sivasankar had backed them in awarding the contract of LIFE Mission projects to Unitac Builders and Developers, which facilitated the receipt of commissions by the UAE Consulate officials, which in turn was partly illegally exported out of the country by Khaled Mohamed Ali Shoukry to Cairo, Egypt”.

The ED alleges that it has evidence to believe that currency worth $1,90,000 smuggled out of the country was generated out of commission paid by Eapen for the contract. It says that Shoukry had asked Swapna and Sarith to receive the cash and hand it over to Sivasankar, who in turn had asked Swapna to keep it in the locker opened in the name of Swapna and P Venugopal, his chartered accountant.

According to Swapna’s testimony to the ED, “Sivasankar felt it risky to keep that cash at home and instructed her to keep it in the bank locker”. The ED alleges that Venugopal opened the bank locker jointly with Swapna and operated it as per instructions from Sivasankar.

Also read: Gold smuggling case: Kerala HC rejects plea for ED, Customs probe against CM

The locker issue

According to the ED chargesheet, Venugopal had accessed the locker on February 8, April 10, and June 20, 2019, and Swapna accessed it on August 6 and October 17, 2019, and March 5 and May 22, 2020.

This part of the document, however, sounds contradictory to the charges levelled against Sivasankar and supports the claim he has made in his special leave petition (SLP) in the Supreme Court, challenging the Kerala High Court order denying him bail in the case.

In the SLP, Sivasankar has argued that “a single instance of recovery (seized by NIA) of an amount of Rs 1,00,50,000 is projected as proceeds of crime in two separate complaints [supplementary complaint registered on 24.12.2020 in Crime No. ECIR/KCZO/31/2020 and also in the instant crime ECIR/KCZO/09/2021]”.

In the first complaint, the ED has mentioned this seized amount as “kickbacks meant for M Sivasankar for facilitating award of contract of UAE Red Crescent sponsored Life Mission project at Wadakkanchery, Thrissur to Unitac Builders and Developers Private Limited and Sane Ventures which was parked in the bank locker jointly held by Swapna Prabha Suresh and P Venugopal with SBI, Trivandrum city branch and bank locker held by Swapna Prabha Suresh with Federal Bank, Statue Branch, Trivandrum”.

In the second case, the ED has stated that “it was found that Swapna Suresh opened locker to handle the funds obtained from proceeds of crime”.

Sivasankar’s petition

In his petition, Sivasankar has further submitted that “the circumstances in which the locker was opened in the joint name of Chartered Accountant Venugopal on 30th November, 2018 and the handing over of the keys of the locker to co-accused Swapna on 20th June, 2019, much before the timeline indicated in the allegations concerning Life Mission bribery (August, 2019), has been very clearly revealed in the earlier investigations of Enforcement Directorate and Customs Department. There is no finding by the investigative agency that the locker was operated by Venugopal after June, 2019 or there was any WhatsApp chat/message or any proof regarding any transaction regarding the locker between Venugopal and the petitioner after 20th June, 2019”.

Also read: Life Mission case: Kerala HC denies bail to Sivasankar; cites he is close to CM

According to the petition, “Opening of locker in SBI jointly by Venugopal and Swapna was on 30.11.2018, much before the Life Mission related alleged crimes (which had occurred in second half of 2019). Operation of locker by Venugopal under the instructions of Swapna was only during the period from 30.11.2018 to 20.06.2019. Locker was emptied and locker keys were handed over to Swapna on 20.06.2019 and only Swapna had the access to the locker from 20.06.2019 onwards where she had stashed the alleged Life Mission Commissions/bribe amounts in August, 2019.”

The Supreme Court has sent a notice to the ED and has posted his petition to be considered next month.

Rejected bail pleas 

Meanwhile, the ED special court dismissed Sivasankar’s bail plea in LIFE Mission case on medical grounds on May 26. The ED strongly objected to the plea, arguing that he was taking medicines only for blood pressure and cholesterol despite producing medical records for the continuing treatment of cancer since 2005.

Last month, the Kerala High Court had dismissed Sivasankar’s bail plea, admitting the ED’s argument that “he enjoys a lot of influence in the ruling party of the state, and he is especially close to the Chief Minister”.

Interestingly, the apex court had asked the ED why Swapna Suresh was not arrested in the case. No accused other than Sivasankar is in prison now. Eapen got bail after a brief remand in judicial custody.

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