The National Investigation Agency on Saturday detained Swapna Suresh and Sandeep Nair, the two main suspects in the Kerala gold smuggling case, in Bengaluru, ANI reported. This came a day after the agency filed a first information report against four accused in the case under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
Another accused, Sarith, has been arrested by the Customs Department. The fourth suspect identified as Fazil Fareed is still on the run.
Both Suresh and Nair will be produced in a court in Bengaluru for getting a transit warrant and would later be taken to the NIA office in Kochi. “Accused Swapna Suresh and Sandeep Nair have been detained,” an official statement by the NIA said. “They are being examined and will be arrested in due course. They were detained from BTM Layout in Bengaluru.”
Kerala’s Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala alleged that the state police helped the accused, NDTV reported. “How can Swapna Suresh reach Bengaluru when there is a triple lockdown under way in Thiruvananthapuram city,” he asked. “It is evident that the police helped her.”
Kerala BJP President K Surendran also raised similar questions. “The NIA has arrested Swapna Suresh in record time, within two days of beginning the investigation,” he tweeted. “But who helped Swapna Suresh to flee Trivandrum which is in triple lock down. Pinarayi Vijayan who also handles the home portfolio has a lot to answer.”
The investigative agency had said initial enquiries have revealed that the proceeds of smuggled gold could be used for financing of terrorism in India. Meanwhile, the Customs had opposed the anticipatory bail plea filed by Suresh in Kerala High Court. It said the accused had smuggled gold in the past, including for other gangs, under the guise of diplomatic cargo.
On Thursday, the Ministry of Home Affairs gave the agency the go-ahead to inquire into the matter. Vijayan had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for an “effective and coordinated” investigation by all central agencies regarding the seizure of gold.
On July 5, gold weighing 30 kgs concealed in imported plumbing material was seized by the Customs officials upon inspection of an air cargo consignment addressed to the Consular General of the United Arab Emirates in Thiruvananthapuram district. Officials valued the gold at Rs 15 crore.
Sarith and Suresh worked at the consulate-general’s office until six months ago. Later, the state government had appointed Suresh as marketing liaison officer of the Space Park project under the IT Department’s Kerala State Information Technology Infrastructure Limited. Her contract was terminated after the allegations surfaced. A senior Indian Administrative Service official M Sivasankar was also removed as the principal secretary of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan after Opposition leaders questioned Sivasankar’s alleged association with Suresh.