UAE diplomat in gold smuggling scam exits India; questions remain

Having diplomatic immunity, the diplomat did not subject himself to interrogation and left India

Gold
Joint Commissioner Aniesh P Rajan received his transfer order on Thursday | Representative Photo: iStock

UAE Charge d’Affaires Rashed Khamis Al Musaiqri Al Ashmia, on whose behalf the controversial consignment of gold was smuggled into the international airport at Thiruvananthapuram, has exited the country.

According to sources, he left India a couple of days back. Having diplomatic immunity, the Charge d’Affaires did not subject himself to interrogation and left the country, leaving many questions unanswered.

Sources in the Customs department said this may not be the first case of gold smuggling through diplomatic channels, but it has been undoubtedly proved that the Consulate General of UAE in Thiruvananthapuram has been using the service of two persons with questionable background for administrative and logical services.

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One of the accused, Sarith, was reportedly sacked from the office of the Consulate General for indiscipline. Another accused, Swapna Suresh, is its former employee.

According to a statement recorded by Customs officials, the Charge d’Affaires told them that he used to employ Sarith for “odd jobs as he was not familiar with the rules and regulations in India.”

A screenshot shared by Kerala Minister for Higher Education KT Jaleel poses even bigger questions on the contentious style of functioning of the UAE Consulate.

In the message sent from the official number of the Consulate General to Mr Jaleel, Swapna is introduced as the intermediary who would be in touch with the office of the minister for future communications.

Swapna’s anticipatory bail plea brings up more serious issues. In that, Swapna states that whatever she had done was under clear instructions from the Consulate. She submits electronic evidence to back her assertions. She was asked by Al Ashmia to prepare a letter to send the cargo back to UAE which she then mailed him. None of these issues that cast a shadow over the office of the Consulate is being investigated or discussed.

Related news: Gold smuggling: Kerala FM Isaac points to loophole in Centre’s e-way bill system

The leaked call records of Swapna Suresh show that that she had been in touch with Mr Jaleel. The minister, giving no room for speculation, immediately clarified that the calls to him were made strictly for official purposes. He made available to the media the screen shots of text messages sent from the official number of the Consulate General.

The Consulate General had asked the minister to help him distribute Ramzan food kits. In his mail, the Consulate General informs the minister that Swapna Suresh would be in touch for further communication on behalf of him.

“Diplomatic immunity is not absolute,” says Advocate Kaleeswaram Raj, a senior lawyer in the Kerala High Court. “This chain of action can be conclusively established only if the role of the diplomat is unearthed. If there is suspicion of a criminal offence, the central government should institute the due process in cooperation with the UAE government to bring out the facts of the case,” says Raj.

So far, there is no evidence for any legal course of action being taken for interrogating Al Ashmia. On the contrary, Union Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan categorically stated that the gold was not brought in a diplomatic baggage.

He told the media that the bag was a cargo sent by a private person to the diplomat. It gets the status of a diplomatic baggage only when it is being sent from any government.

Related news: NIA takes Swapna Suresh, Sandeep Nair into custody in gold smuggling case

However, Muraleedharan could not explain why Customs officials had complied with the due process, including seeking permission from the Ministry of Home Affairs, to open the bag in the presence of Al Ashmia if the cargo doesn’t qualify to be a diplomatic bag.

The case records submitted by both the Customs and the NIA categorically establish that the bag was a diplomatic one, which contradicts Mr Muraleedharan’s claims. The FIR lodged by the NIA states that “the aforesaid consignment was camouflaged in diplomatic baggage from the UAE that is exempted from inspection as per the Vienna Convention.”

The phone call records of Swapna Suresh leaked to the media conclusively establish that the Consulate General was continuously in touch with her on the days prior to the seizure and also on the morning of the incident.

But no investigation has been initiated on the ground that diplomatic channels are free from all criminal investigations.

Meanwhile, an ‘authorization letter’ naming Faisal Fareed Theparambil, the third accused who had sent the cargo, has also surfaced, raising further questions on the role of the Charge d’Affaires. However, The Federal could not independently verify the authenticity of the letter.

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