An alleged suspect linked to the smuggling of gold through diplomatic cargo meant for the UAE Consulate, has admitted to the Customs that Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had taken a packet containing a bundle of currency to UAE during one of his overseas trips. The purported incident had occurred in 2017 during Pinarayi Vijayan’s visit to the UAE.
P S Sarith, who is one of the accused in the smuggling of 30 kg of gold to the Consulate under the guise of diplomatic cargo, gave the statement, which is likely to spark political turmoil in the state. The Customs had discovered that the consulate’s financial head Khaled Mohamed Al Shoukry had illegally exported 1,90,000 dollars during the investigation. The show-cause notices sent to accused persons in the case concerning dollar exports in August 2019 mentioned CM Vijayan’s packet of currency to UAE. CPI (M) leader and former Assembly speaker P Sreeramakrishnan had previously been accused of smuggling foreign currency out of the country.
In his statement under section 124 of the Customs Act, Sarith said that in early 2017, he received a call from the general administration department (of the state government) saying that the Chief Minister was planning a trip to the UAE. The Consulate coordinated the necessary arrangements for the Chief Minister’s delegation team. Swapna Suresh, another suspect in the case, had obtained the contact number of M Sivasankar, then principal secretary to the CM, so that the rest of the travel plans of the CM and the delegates could be managed by Swapna (then executive secretary at the consulate) and Consul General Jamal Al-Zaabi.
CM Pinarayi Vijayan had traveled to the UAE and Swapna called Sarith and said that the Consul General had asked her to direct him to collect a packet that the Chief Minister had forgotten to bring. Afterward, he went to the secretariat and collected a packet from one Harikrishnan, a staff member at the general administration department.
‘This packet was rectangular in shape and covered with a thick brown paper. After reaching the Consulate, out of curiosity, he (Sarith) put the package in the Consulate’s X-ray machine, where the contents were revealed as a bundle of currency and some other items. According to Swapna’s instructions, he had passed the packet to Ahamed AL Doukhi, the administrative attaché at the Consulate, who was traveling to the UAE to hand over the packet to the Chief Minister as per the Consul General’s directions,’ the show cause notice stated.
Even though he was in charge of all southern states, he maintained very personal relations with the ministers of Kerala, according to him. Al Zaabi had always insisted that ministers be invited to functions in the Consulate and had instructed Sarith to collect biodata on all ministers and to find out who was most influential among those ministers. The Consul General wanted Sarith to maintain good relation with the ministers.
Swapna, in the show cause notice, admitted to customs that Khaled and Jamal Al Zaabi had carried foreign currency many times to the UAE illegally. Foreign currency concealed in bags would not be detected by the CISF during security checks at the airport. Since then, Vijayan’s principal secretary, a senior IAS official, has been suspended due to the smuggling case that damaged his image.