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Saturday, June 10, 2023

Gold smuggling saga: tainted yet reinstated IAS officer M Sivasankar’s controversial autobiography angers Swapna Suresh

Recently Swapna Suresh aka ‘Mumtaz’, one of the kingpins of Kerala’s gold smuggling racket came down heavily during a TV interview on equally tainted but comparatively lesser-punished Kerala cadre IAS officer M Sivasankar. She was responding to the media after the officer’s controversial autobiography was released where he tried to shift the entire blame on Swapna. Keralites are now forced to watch the washing of dirty linen by both, in public.

Both of them were found to be involved in the infamous Kerala gold smuggling case using the UAE diplomatic channel. Swapna said that Sivasankar exploited her and dumped her when she needed him the most. 

By the time they were finally cornered in early July 2020, the duo along with diplomats attached to the UAE embassy in Thiruvananthapuram tried to deceive our customs department and smuggled copious amounts of gold into our country. Suspiciously, the accused UAE embassy staff escaped in the nick of time and they are now refusing to cooperate with our security agencies. 

It is feared by analysts that they are questioned, the blame and probably the punishment will be restricted to a few pawns while the big fish including the likes of Pinarayi Vijayan, former Waqf minister KT Jaleel and former assembly speaker P Sreeramakrishnan will escape unscathed. Incidentally, Vijayan is the only one still holding public office and even as the Sivasankar/ Swapna controversy was raging back home, he was meeting the autocratic rulers of the UAE, in the UAE, who in turn called their relationship ‘special.’ 

In his memoir, Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s former principal secretary attempted to whitewash his own crimes and alleged that it was Swapna who had entrapped him. The senior bureaucrat rejected all charges leveled against him and claimed that both the National Investigation Agency (NIA) that is probing the gold smuggling for funding terrorism cases, and the media, were out to tarnish him.  

Investigations had earlier revealed that Sivasankar had illegally appointed Swapna to a Kerala government position using fake degree certificates and it was this assignment that got him suspended from his position as the Principal Secretary to the CM. Swapna had admitted that she was weak at studies and had barely scraped through the 12th standard, while at school.

Even though she had ‘resigned’ from the UAE embassy before joining the Kerala Government-owned Space Park at a senior post, Swapna was still in contact with officials of that country. Even more dangerously, she was simultaneously ‘working’ for the government of Kerala. Our premier intelligence agencies had prior information about the smuggling but her phone calls to Sivasankar (to get the gold seized by customs, released) really led to their downfall. 

NIA officers arrested Swapna and a few of her accomplices (including her second husband) from Bengaluru in early July 2020 while they were on the run from the investigators, and she was in jail till November 2021 before being released on bail. Meanwhile, Sivasankar was using an iPhone that the UAE embassy had gifted him through Swapna and that is what finally led to his arrest in November 2020 by the customs department. 

Swapna confirmed during her interview that investigators had tapped that device and though she remained silent about Sivasankar and other accomplices till November, she was forced to reveal the conspiracy when the officers confronted her with information and chats from that same mobile device. Further investigations revealed that Swapna Suresh had contacts with the rich and the powerful, not just in Kerala but in the UAE as well, and made several calls to them when the gold smuggling was exposed.  

Sivasankar was jailed for just 98 days and released on bail on February 4, 2021, but his suspension was extended for another six months till July 2021. Curiously he was reinstated without much fanfare and he is now the principal secretary of the Sports and Youth Welfare Department. The same person who had once famously claimed that all he had to do is slip him a tissue paper and CM Vijayan would sign on it, no questions asked, was back in the secretariat. 

Right now the level of anarchy existing in Kerala is so bad that even the left-leaning so-called ‘unbiased’ media are unsure about Sivasankar’s appointment. The same ‘journalist’ who today evening mentions his appointment in the sports department says tomorrow that his new post has not been revealed yet. More details can be viewed here and here

In his book, Sivasankar tried hard to portray Swapna as the kingpin behind the gold smuggling racket and added that he was ‘extremely shocked’ to learn of Swapna’s involvement and that he was ‘trapped’. Swapna revealed that the NIA knows that Sivasankar was fully aware of the contents of the diplomatic baggage.

She further added that Sivasankar was a daily visitor to her house and they used to travel together all over not just Bharat but also abroad, mainly to the UAE. The above-mentioned iPhone was just one of the several such luxurious gifts that the UAE government had offered and he had accepted, said Swapna. Many Keralite VIPs were on the UAE payroll. 

Swapna said that her ex-husband (second one) was a bum who never worked and was a couch potato who lounged on her sofa for 10 years and left when the heat became unbearable after she was arrested. Reports have emerged that work or not, he was also ’employed’ at another Kerala government-owned enterprise through Sivasankar’s connections.

Her first marriage happened immediately after she passed her 12th standard, while in the UAE. Earlier reports had suggested that this is when she converted to Islam and accepted the name Mumtaz. Her elder daughter is from the first husband and it was her second husband who bought Swapna a fake degree certificate for ‘legal purposes.’   

After her return to Kerala, Swapna met Sivasankar through Vijayan and claims that he lured her and spun dreams of the two enjoying a nice, retired life in Dubai. He started spending every alternate night with her, and enjoyed birthday parties together. She called him the mastermind of the smuggling racket, and added that it was he who asked her to ‘resign’ from the UAE Embassy following some ‘hanky panky.’ Media never cared to ask her why she was still in contact with the UAE Embassy, if she had resigned.

She said that it was Sivasankar who pulled the strings when KPMG denied to employ her as a consultant to the Kerala IT department and it was he who brought in another agency, PwC, to do the dirty work. Swapna added that her escape to Bengaluru when the whole of Bharat was shut down, audio clips that she released declaring Pinarayi’s innocence, and her attempts at anticipatory bail were scripted by Sivasankar and that she was just obeying orders.  

As expected, she tried to shield CPM-backed MLA and ex-minister KT Jaleel by mentioning ‘religious commitments’ for direct dealing with the UAE Consulate General. Swapna laughed when reminded that the former assembly speaker P Sreeramakrishnan had earlier said that since she used to come in a big UAE embassy-owned car, he thought that she was a UAE diplomat. She said that if the speaker believes that a Bharatiya passport holder can become another country’s diplomat, then he is not fit to remain in politics. She did admit that she and the speaker were more than just friends.

Swapna added that the central investigating agency’s probe was based solely on facts that she just could not deny since they were producing evidence to back their questions. They never took the investigation personally. All her known assets have been frozen by the Enforcement Directorate and if pushed further, she promised a biography of her own that will contain facts, figures, and photographs.  

Incidentally, Swapna claimed that she was just a small part of a huge mafia. Other local media also rushed to interview her but none had the guts to question who the actual beneficiaries from the gold smuggling were. Some did question her but her lips were sealed. From the hints provided, it seems the NIA officers investigating the whole piece have a better idea.

Pinarayi Vijayan returned to Kerala on Sunday morning and in a typical arbitrary fashion the government of Kerala came out with a new corona protocol that took away the compulsory 7 days quarantine for all travelers from foreign countries. The new order came into effect on Saturday. 

Desperate and paranoid, Vijayan is now hoping to buy some time by clipping the wings of the Kerala Lok Ayukta. A cabinet proposed ordinance seeks to “either accept or reject the verdict of the Lokayukta, after giving an opportunity of being heard”. Currently, a public servant is required to vacate office if directed by the Lokayukta. The word ‘reject’ and its implications are pretty clear to the ones in the know, but is it legal?

Those who oppose the Kerala Lok Ayukta are led by none other than Jaleel who had to earlier step down after the Lok Ayukta found him guilty of nepotism. Jaleel was the minister in charge of Minority affairs when he appointed his close blood relative KT Adeeb by distorting existing rules and made him the managing director of the Kerala State Minorities Development Finance Corporation Ltd. (KSMDFC), a department under him. He accused the sitting Lokayukta Justice Cyriac Joseph of trying to sabotage the Sister Abhaya rape/ murder case and claimed that he would do anything for a reward.

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