Why 2020 Kerala gold smuggling scam has returned to haunt Pinarayi Vijayan

Key accused Swapna Suresh’s accusation that the Kerala CM, his wife and daughter were involved in the scam has prompted the Opposition to demand Pinarayi Vijayan’s resignation

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan addresses a press conference at Kerala House in New Delhi, on March 24, 2022; Photo by Shahbaz Khan/ PTI

After his party recently lost the Thrikkakara assembly bypoll, dashing his hopes of pitching the election verdict as people’s endorsement of the LDF government’s development work, Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan finds himself beset with a fresh challenge—allegations against him in the scam of gold smuggling through diplomatic baggage that had rocked the state in 2020. Swapna Suresh, a key accused in the case, has alleged that Pinarayi, his wife Kamala and daughter Veena were fully aware of the gold smuggling and had played a role in it.

The scam was unearthed in July 2020 when customs officials recovered 30 kilos of gold from a baggage meant for the UAE consulate in Thiruvananthapuram. Swapna, 40, was released in November 2021 after 16 months of imprisonment for alleged involvement in the scam.

Swapna has alleged that the beneficiaries of the scam included key aides of the chief minister, such as Nalini Netto, former chief principal secretary to the CM; M. Sivasankar, officer on special duty (OSD) to the CM; and the chief minister’s additional private secretary C.M. Raveendran, as well as former higher education minister K.T Jaleel. She alleged that these officials had played a role in transit of foreign currency from Thiruvananthapuram to Dubai on behalf of Pinarayi and that a precious metals consignment was sent from the UAE consulate in Thiruvananthapuram to the chief minister’s official residence in a vessel meant for cooking biryani.

In his defence, Pinarayi, on June 7, said that Swapna’s allegations were part of an Opposition conspiracy to discredit his government. The Congress-led Opposition observed a ‘black day’ on June 8 and demanded Pinarayi’s resignation.

Meanwhile, based on Jaleel’s complaint with the Thiruvananthapuram city police that he was being defamed by Swapna and former MLA P.C. George, the police have registered a case against the two.

“Legally, Swapna Suresh’s statement under Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) before a judicial magistrate in Kochi reveals nothing beyond her previous statement in court. But investigating agencies like the Enforcement Directorate (ED) can summon persons named in her statement,” Dr Sebastian Paul, former Lok Sabha MP and a leading advocate in the Kerala High Court, told INDIA TODAY. “If evidence is found of their involvement, the case may take a volatile turn. Otherwise, the statement can only help the Opposition create some political fireworks.”

Swapna has claimed before the media that she has evidences to prove her allegations. “I’ve taken the risk. Without evidence, I would not have given such a statement. Just wait, I will disclose more,” she told INDIA TODAY.

Many, though, find her claims questionable. For instance, they say, if the UAE consulate wanted to deliver precious metals at Pinarayi’s official residence, carrying it in a diplomatic vehicle would have been safer than in a biryani vessel. Media Critic and lawyer A. Jayashankar says Swapna’s allegations against Pinarayi remind one of the charges made by solar scam accused Saritha Nair against former chief minister Oommen Chandy.

The allegations have certainly put Pinarayi and the CPI(M) in a spot at a time when the Congress is looking to cash in on its Thrikkakara bypoll victory and step up pressure on the chief minister, whose ambitious K-Rail project has been witnessing widespread protests across the state. But Pinarayi being a master strategist, political watchers will be keeping a close eye on how he wriggles out of this controversy.

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