The Kerala High Court on Friday quashed two First Information Reports against Enforcement Directorate officials for allegedly coercing the prime accused in the gold smuggling case to testify against Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, reported Live Law.
Quoting prime accused Swapna Suresh’s statements, the Enforcement Directorate had told the High Court that Vijayan, three ministers in his Cabinet and Speaker of the Assembly knew about the illegal activities through the United Arab Emirates consulate in Thiruvananthapuram.
The Kerala Police had filed the FIRs against unidentified Enforcement Directorate officials in March after Suresh and her accomplice Sandeep Nair reportedly claimed that they were under pressure to implicate the chief minister. In an audio clip, which surfaced in November, Suresh was purportedly heard saying that officials assured her that she would be made an approver if she acted as they directed. In March, Nair had written a letter to the district judge in Ernakulam, alleging that ED officials were forcing him to name the chief minister in the case.
The FIRs were registered under Sections 120-B (criminal conspiracy), 167 (public servant framing an incorrect document with intent to cause injury), 192 (fabricating false evidence) and 195-A (threatening any person to give false evidence) of the Indian Penal Code.
The Enforcement Directorate then moved the court, alleging that the FIRs were filed with “ulterior motives to derail statutory investigation under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act related to the smuggling of large quantities of the gold to the country”. The agency’s plea was filed by its Deputy Director P Radhakrishnan who sought the quashing of the FIR registered by the Kerala Police or a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation.
The single judge bench of Justice VG Arun held that the police should have approached the special PMLA court, which is looking at the cases related to the money trail in the gold smuggling case. He also directed the crime branch to submit all information in the matter to the PMLA court in a sealed cover.
Opposition parties welcomed the court’s ruling. “CM Pinarayi Vijayan can’t get away by sacrificing some of his officials,” Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan told Hindustan Times. “He can’t intimidate central agencies like this.”
Meanwhile, the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) said the government will decide on future course of action after studying the verdict in detail.
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 in October before a special court in Ernakulam district, had named three accused – Suresh, Nair and Saritha PS. In the same month, the ED also arrested suspended Indian Administrative Service officer and Vijayan’s former Principal Secretary M Sivasankar, in relation to the case.