The Kerala government on Tuesday removed senior Indian Administrative Service official M Sivasankar as the principal secretary of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, The Indian Express reported. This came after Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala and BJP state President K Surendran questioned Sivasankar’s alleged association with Swapna Suresh, the prime accused in a gold smuggling case.
Mir Mohammed Ali, a 2011-batch Kerala cadre IAS officer, has been appointed the secretary to the chief minister’s office. Sivasankar still retains his post as IT Secretary and the chairperson of Kerala State Information Technology Infrastructure Limited, or KSITIL, where Swapna Suresh was employed.
“By removing his secretary, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan is admitting that Opposition was right,” Chennithala tweeted. “Chief minister was trying to protect M Sivasankar and now he is using him as a scapegoat as more allegations are coming up!”
On Sunday, the Customs had seized 30 kgs of gold from a diplomatic baggage bound for the United Arab Emirates consulate in Thiruvananthapuram district. Officials found that former employees of the consulate general Swapna Suresh and Sarith Nair were involved in the gold smuggling, according to The News Minute. Both of them worked at the consulate-general’s office until six months ago.
While Nair is in the custody of the customs department, Suresh is reportedly absconding. Officials valued the gold at Rs 15 crore.
After the controversy, the state government had fired Suresh. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Monday said he was not aware of the circumstances that led to her appointment. “It was without my knowledge and will endeavour to understand the facts in the matter,” he said.
Meanwhile, the UAE consulate has denied any knowledge of the smuggling operation and promised to cooperate with the investigation, Customs Commissioner Sumith Kumar said. “Diplomatic cargo has protection, and normal checking cannot be done [on them], but we took special sanction from the government to examine the cargo,” he added.
Kumar said Customs suspects a well-organised syndicate is behind the smuggling. He added that the gold was concealed in imported plumbing material.
UAE’s Ambassador to India Ahmad Abdul Rahman Al Banna said he hoped that Indian authorities will clear his country’s name. “We trust the Indian authorities and have full faith in their investigation process,” he told Gulf News. “We know they [Indian authorities] are capable and will do the best in investigating the case and they will release the name of our consulate from any misconduct.” He added that the employee involved in smuggling was sacked a few months ago. “Unfortunately, he used different means and ways to misuse the name of the consulate,” the ambassador said.