A voice clip, purportedly of Swapna Suresh, one of the prime accused in the Kerala gold smuggling case, has kicked up a political row in the state, The Hindu reported on Friday.
In the clip released by online Malayalam news portal The Cue, a woman’s voice – allegedly that of Suresh – suggests that the Enforcement Directorate put pressure on her to give a statement against Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. The recording of a phone conversation between Suresh and an anonymous person first surfaced on Wednesday. Suresh is currently lodged at the Attakulangara Women’s Jail in Thiruvananthapuram.
The recording suggests that the ED invited Suresh to turn an approver in the case, in lieu of deposing against Vijayan and his former Principal Secretary M Sivasankar. It is further alleged that the Enforcement Directorate did not allow Suresh to read her statement, and its agents asked her to sign what they had written down after questioning.
Sivasankar was arrested last month by the Enforcement Directorate in relation with the case and has been in custody since. In a court filing, Sivasankar had said that he was arrested because he refused to implicate Vijayan in the case, as asked by the investigation agency, according to The Hindu.
After the audio clip was released, Director General of Police (Prisons) Rishiraj Singh said that the cyber police have been asked to examine the authenticity of the clip, reported The Indian Express. Deputy Inspector General (Prisons) Ajaya Kumar, who met Suresh, said the voice was prima facie identified as Suresh’s, but it was not recorded from the jail. Kumar said Suresh did not know who recorded it.
The Enforcement Directorate, however, rejected the claims, as unnamed official sources quoted by PTI said that the agency was “digging deeper” into the money laundering trail that involves a number of people. They refuted Suresh’s claims of coercion and asserted that the allegations are false. The agency has also written to the Kerala Prisons Department seeking an investigation into how the clip was recorded and circulated in violation of guidelines meant for the accused in jail.
They also said that if the clip was an authentic one, it was a “serious breach” of legal procedures aimed at jeopardising the probe.
Meanwhile, a special court dealing with economic offences had on Tuesday extended the judicial custody of Suresh and another accused Sandeep Nair till December 1, reported The News Minute. Both the accused are in preventive detention under the Conservation of Foreign Exchange and Prevention of Smuggling Activities.
‘BJP using investigating agencies,’ says CPI(M)
A political blame game ensued in Kerala after the clip emerged. The ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) accused the Bharatiya Janata Party of “using investigation agencies to destabilise” the state government.
On the other hand, Minister of State for External Affairs and BJP leader V Muraleedharan said that the clip was an attempt by the chief minister’s office to “to whitewash the sleazy record of the government”, reported The Hindu.
State Congress chief Mullappally Ramachandran, meanwhile, raised questions on how the message managed to come out of the jail.
Various central investigating agencies are probing the gold smuggling case. On July 5, gold weighing 30 kg 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.
Officials found that former employees of the consulate – Swapna Suresh and Sandeep Nair – were involved in the gold smuggling. The customs department arrested Nair on the same day for allegedly facilitating the smuggling of the gold in diplomatic baggage from Thiruvananthapuram to Dubai.
The Enforcement Directorate, in its charge sheet filed last month before a special court in Ernakulam district, had named three accused – Suresh, Nair and Saritha PS. “The accused indulged in criminal activities and huge amount of proceeds of crime have been generated and they are possessing, concealing and using such proceeds of crime,” the agency mentioned in the charge sheet, according to PTI.