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Kerala gold smuggling case: NIA men to visit UAE to trace diplomatic channels

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New Delhi: Stepping up its probe into the Kerala gold smuggling case, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) is likely to send its officials to the United Arab Emirates after obtaining special permission owing to Covid-19.

Scheduled international passenger flights have been suspended in India since March 25 due to the pandemic, but flights to the UAE were recently allowed under travel bubble agreement.

The agency suspects that the gold smuggling case could be linked to terrorism financing.

“The NIA will examine all those involved with handling diplomatic consignments, distribution network and money transfers to hawala agents in the UAE,” said a home ministry official, who did not wish to be identified.

Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan’s close aide and a senior bureaucrat M Sivasankar are among those questioned by the agencies while the opposition alleged that the CM was aware of his former principal secretary’s activities. The NIA is investigating seizure of 30 kg of gold from a diplomatic consignment at the Thiruvananthapuram international airport last month. It had sought the extradition of Ernakulam-based gold smuggler Fazil Fareed, presently based in the UAE, after it came to light that seven consignments of gold had been sent from the UAE since January this year.

In Kerala, six more suspects alleged to be involved in distribution of smuggled gold were arrested by the NIA last week. Two of them — Jalal AM, a resident of Ernakulam district and Said Alavi E from Malappuram district — were held on July 30 on the disclosure of Ramees KT, an alleged gold smuggler.

“Investigation revealed that they were also part of the conspiracy, besides aiding and assisting arrested accused Jalal AM in collecting the smuggled gold from Ramees KT at Thiruvananthapuram and distributing the contraband amongst other conspirators,” said an NIA statement.

On July 31, the NIA arrested two more accused, Mohammed Shafi and Abdu PT, both residents of Malappuram, for their alleged role in gold distribution. A day later, the agency nabbed Muhammad Ali Ebrahim and Muhammad Ali, both residents of Muvattupuzha, Ernakulam district of Kerala.

An investigator said Muhammad Ali, son of Abdul Kader, is a member of the Popular Front of India, suspected to be involved in anti-national activities, and was earlier charge-sheeted by police in a professor’s palm chopping case but got acquitted after trial in 2015. In all, 10 accused including Swapna Suresh have been arrested in the case.

Suresh was a former employee of the UAE Consulate and later employed with the Kerala government’s IT Department. Her links with senior IAS officer Sivasankar came up later during the investigation. Sivasankar was principal secretary to the CM and information technology secretary before he was removed after the racket was busted.

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