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Saturday, February 24, 2024

The three gold smuggling gangs of Kerala and their links to CPM and PFI

A criminal allegedly associated with CPM, Arjun Ayanki has been arrested for his role in the Karipur airport gold smuggling extortion case. On June 21 before daylight, five Popular Front of India (PFI) members from Cherpulassery in Palakkad, travelling in an SUV died instantly when their over-speeding vehicle flipped at least thrice and rammed into a truck at Ramanattukara on the border between Kozhikode and Malappuram. They had a criminal past and were part of a 15-member gang from Cherpulassery and were allegedly hired by a Koduvally based gold smuggling mafia to protect the gold arriving at Kozhikode airport from Dubai. They had information that a Kannur-based gang, allegedly comprising of CPM cadre would try and snatch their gold at the airport or once they were on the move.

Unknown to all three mafias involved, customs officials had detained Mohammad Shafeeq the carrier at the Kozhikode Airport in Karipur (10 km from Ramanattukara) as soon as his flight from Dubai had landed earlier. Unfortunately for the mafia, 2.33 kg (worth Rs. 1 crore) of gold had been confiscated but more importantly, during the interrogation Shafeeq had started spilling the beans and named Arjun Ayanki. 

Arjun Ayanki

Shafeeq told customs officers that he was carrying the gold on behalf of Arjun and was supposed to hand over the gold to him at the airport and collect Rs 45,000/- for his services. He added that Arjun had spoken to him a minimum of 25 times immediately prior to his departure. Arjun is also alleged to be the kingpin of a ‘Pottikkal Gang’ (Pottikkal is slang for snatching) engaged in highway robberies targeting carriers involved in moving hawala money and gold. 

Security cameras footage showed Arjun’s car parked at the airport and it was later found hidden near Pariyaram Medical College Hospital. The car was used by Arjun but was bought in the name of Sajesh, a former member of the CPI(M) Moiyaram branch committee in Kannur. During interrogations, Sajesh admitted that Arjun pays the monthly instalments of the vehicle, basically meaning Arjun was the beneficiary owner and held the car as benami property.

The CPM had suspended Sajesh for a year for not being ‘vigilant’ and their youth wing the DYFI had expelled him. There are reports that Sajesh is employed with a co-operative bank in Kannur (most of which function practically as CPM party extensions, headed by local communist leaders). Sajesh snitched on Arjun and the customs are working on recovering gold earlier snatched by Arjun and his gang. They are also probing deeper into this relationship and other CPM members who may be involved.

Arjun was also an active member of the local Kannur CPM and is allegedly close to disgraced CPM leader Bineesh Kodiyeri. Bineesh is incarcerated at Agrahara Jail in Bengaluru since November 2020 accused of a whole host of charges including drug running.

Arjun was under the impression that Shafeeq had double-crossed him and had escaped with the gold from the airport. Having waited in his car at the airport and unable to find Shafeeq after all the Dubai passengers had left, he started sending voice messages to Shafeeq, threatening him. Arjun’s messages apparently made it clear that he was the kingpin and corroborated what Shafeeq had told customs.

Incidentally, had Shafeeq come out and had Arjun acted smart, he would not be alive today. The 15 member Cherpulassery gang had been positioned at the airport by the Koduvally mafia for exactly that. They thought that Shafeeq had got into Arjun’s car and started following it in the Kozhikode direction, in the opposite direction of Palakkad. 

The Cherpulassery gang rode for 10 km and then received information that Shafeeq had been detained at the airport by customs. They turned back and met with the accident on their way back. The speed at which they were going, the timing, the sharp bends on the road, the spin on the road have all raised questions of third-party involvement in the accident. 

Of the remaining 10 gang members traveling in a couple of other vehicles, only 8 were arrested. They are Mubasheer, 29; Suhail, 24; Hassan, 35; Faisal, 24; Fayas, 29; Saleem, 28; Shanidh, 32; and Musthafa, 26. The Malappuram police registered a case against them under IPC for preparing to commit dacoity.

In his alibi, Arjun said that Shafeeq owed Rs. 15,000/- to a common friend of theirs named Ramiz while Ramiz was in Dubai and they had both come to the airport to recover the amount. He added that both of them knew that Shafeeq was bringing in contraband and that he was getting an amount of 45,000/- for smuggling. They were planning debt recovery and ended up in the airport.

As usual, both the CPM and the PFI distanced themselves from their respective mafias but agreed that they were ex-party members.

Sufiyaan, one of the prime accused, has also been taken into custody by the police. The Koduvally native is being questioned at Malappuram. He had visited the site of the accident in Ramanattukara and is accused of several gold smuggling cases. Usually, agents buy tax-free gold from Dubai and use ‘carriers’ (both men and women) who work for smugglers in Kerala. Many a times, the Dubai agents double cross and ‘tip’ other smugglers or thugs like Arjun about carriers like Shafeeq, their travel plans, and local contacts.

Sufiyaan Koduvally

Shafeeq had originally agreed to smuggle the gold for a Koduvally gang, allegedly headed by Sufiyaan. Sufiyaan’s brother Fijas and an accomplice named Shihab were detained. Audiotapes reveal that Shafeeq agreed to hand over the smuggled gold to Arjun even before he started from Dubai, knowing fully well that it was not intended for him. 

In the leaked audio clips Arjun makes it clear that he wants the gold and adds that if and when the owners come claiming the gold, his party cadre will handle them. Shafeeq probably agreed in the interest of self-preservation when Arjun made it clear that 1/3rd of the share in this robbery would go to the CPM and that disagreement would invite the wrath of Kodi Suni and Mohammed Shafi, two convicts in the 2012 TP Chandrasekharan murder case where party goons had eliminated a CPM rival in Kannur. They are both in jail but continue to receive unrestricted freedom in jail, have obtained bail at will, and continue to run their mafia business from inside the jail using mobile phones. 

The police claim that the Cherpulassery gang had come to loot the gold meant for the Koduvally gang, thereby discounting Arjun’s role. SIT chief and Kondotty DySP Ashraf K said Fijas is a member of a Koduvally gang connected to the gold smuggling syndicate. “However, he doesn’t know who gave quotation to protect the gold and for whom the gold was being smuggled,” he said. This clearly shows the path the local police (if left on their own)might follow under the able leadership of Kerala Home Minister, Pinarayi Vijayan and the CPM.

Arjun hid his car and destroyed his mobile phones before surrendering and is not cooperating with the customs dept. These stories didn’t go down well with the court. The Customs, in a statement submitted to the Additional Chief Justice Magistrate (Economic Offences) in Ernakulam, that Arjun Ayanki had links with Mohammed Shafique. 

Speaking to reporters, Arjun blamed the media for ‘creating’ 90% of the ‘issue’ and added: “ do not involve the Party in the scheme of things”. This was exactly what Swapna Suresh an old gold smuggling agent wanted. That was in June last year when she was on the run and asked the media not to involve the government in the gold smuggling using the diplomatic channel. These are clear signals to the party cadre to either shut up or face the music. 

Koduvally is a smuggler’s paradise, situated on the national highway, 20 km from Kozhikode and 20 from the high ranges of Wayanad. If the smugglers felt the heat from authorities, they could cross over to Wayanad and then escape through thick jungles into either Tamil Nadu or Karnataka. 

With more than 100 gold shops lining a 500-meter stretch of road, Koduvally is home to one of Bharat’s densest jewellery hubs and is one of the largest markets for gold in Bharat. Smugglers feel at home and shops are open especially at night to ‘deal’ in smuggled gold. Incidentally, the last time the town came into the limelight was when the powerful smuggling mafia tried to attack Sumit Kumar, IRS, the Commissioner of Customs (Preventive), and the chief investigating officer in the Swapna Suresh gold smuggling case. The attack happened at Koduvally when Sumit was on his way back from Wayanad.

Where did the 2 gangsters from the Cherpulassery gang disappear and why? How did so many gang members assemble at a high-security installation like an airport when Kerala was under strict lockdown and ordinary citizens were being fined 2,000/- when they went to buy necessities like milk? How many people including police officers have been punished for helping Swapna Suresh drive from Thiruvanthapuram to Bengaluru with her family in tow during the lockdown, last year?

Why is Arjun being defended by an SFI leader Adv PK Rameez (and a host of others) in court? How many such ⅓ profit ratio gangs does the CPM have under its wings? What action was initiated following customs officer Sumit’s complaints to local police? How many Sufiyaan’s exist in Koduvally?

In the end how many rectums and electronics can the customs check? Even after so many arrests, the smuggling continues, showing that it remains economically profitable and a large majority of carriers actually are successful in their mission. Though named Kozhikode Airport, it has nothing to do with the district and is in fact located in the Malappuram district. Laws are inadequate and all that the smugglers have to do is pay the customs duties and go home free. 

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