Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have intensified protests against Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan over the seizure of 30 kg of gold from a diplomatic consignment at Thiruvananthapuram International Airport. The opposition parties have sought the resignation of Vijayan and have asked him to face a CBI probe.
According to media reports, the protesters threw coronavirus caution to the wind by huddling together and waving party flags in protest of the scandal. In Palakkad, BJP activists climbed atop police barricades, whereas youth Congress activists took out a rally outside CM Vijayan's ancestral house in Kannur. Thereafter, the state police had to use teargas shells to control protesters.
Meanwhile, the Centre has already ordered a National Investigation Agency (NIA) probe into the incident. The decision on the NIA probe came a day after CM Vijayan wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, seeking his "intervention for an effective investigation" into the seizure of gold.
On July 5, around 30-kg of gold worth Rs 15 crore was concealed from a diplomatic cargo addressed to the UAE Consulate-General Office in Thiruvananthapuram.
As per law, a diplomatic cargo should not be subjected to routine customs examination. The apprehended cargo was listed as bathroom fittings, noodles, biscuits and dates, sent from Sharjah-based Al Zatar Spices. However, the customs already had specific inputs about smuggling of gold. This led to the arrest of Sarith Kumar, who had worked as the Consulate PRO from 2016.
During the questioning, Sarith told that Swapna Suresh, his former colleague at the UAE Consulate, was also at the centre of this smuggling ring. Suresh was the operations manager at the Kerala State Information Technology Infrastructure Limited (KSITL), which comes under the IT Department, a portfolio held by CM Pinarayi.
She filed an application for an anticipatory bail before the Kerala High Court on Thursday. But on Friday, the HC deferred her bail application but the court did not stay arrest warrant against her.
The incident has taken a political colour after the main accused Suresh was reported to be very close to many higher ups in the state government, including CM Vijayan's principal secretary M Sivasankar. Sivasankar was allegedly a frequent caller at her apartment. It also came to light that protocol was not followed in her appointment to the KSITIL. Amid the political chaos, Vijayan has transferred Sivasankar.
Meanwhile, the UAE Embassy in India has condemned the attempted use of diplomatic channels for smuggling, and has promised of full cooperation with the customs authorities.