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Sunday, June 23, 2024

Is the ED closing in on Kerala gold smuggling mafias?

On Wednesday, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) raided the houses and establishments of those who bought gold from suspected terror sponsor/gold smuggling kingpin K T Ramees (Rameez). The raid occurred in the jewelry owners’ homes and establishments in Malappuram, Kozhikode, and Coimbatore. ED had interrogated, arrested, and sent Ramees to jail last week.

ED officers searched the properties of Shamju and Shamsudeen. They are also relatives and natives of Kozhikode. Simultaneous raids happened at someone called Nandagopal’s house in Coimbatore. They smuggle gold using various methods and convert the contraband into jewelry.

These raids were allegedly based on information provided by Ramees, who was earlier arrested in the infamous gold smuggling case using the UAE Consulate’s diplomatic channel. Though the fifth accused, Ramees was the master brain behind the scheme. He exploited Swapna Suresh, the then-secretary at the consulate.

In the past, Ramees had been arrested by both NIA and Customs in the same case. A Customs Special Investigation team caught him from his residence at Vettathoor near Perinthalmanna in the wee hours on 12 July 2020. The smuggled gold was confiscated in early July 2020, at the height of the covid lockdown. 

The ED called Ramees for questioning last Wednesday, interrogated him for three days, and recorded his arrest on Friday. After being produced in the Ernakulam Principal Sessions Court, the court remanded Ramees to ED custody.

His name seems to have first surfaced when DRI detected the smuggling of over 15kg of gold through cargo at Kozhikode airport in 2014. His gang was also involved in poaching and illegal trade in wildlife products. He was also accused of gun-running. Without help from the highest of the land, there is no way one can remain outside jail under such circumstances.

“He knows financiers and buyers through which gold can be smuggled. He is a key agent for smugglers in Kerala and the UAE,” an officer said. There were accusations that Ramees was the middleman between terror groups like PFI and terror financiers like Dawood Ibrahim.

Ramees evaded arrest for many years as he allegedly escaped abroad using his high-powered connections. Incidentally, Ramees is a close relative of the former Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) education minister of Kerala, the late Chakkeeri Ahamed Kutty. 

Ramees arranged finances from several anti-nationals through hawala networks and invested the amounts in his underworld activities. He was also in touch with bureaucrats in the Chief Minister’s office. After receiving fresh evidence from Ramees, the ED has reactivated the probe into the gold smuggling case.

On 5 July 2020, Customs officials seized 30 kg of gold worth Rs.15 crore at the Thiruvananthapuram Airport from a diplomatic cargo addressed to a person in the UAE Consulate. Sarith PS, who worked at the UAE Consulate, was apprehended in this regard. Subsequently, Swapna Suresh, an ex-Consulate employee working as the Kerala State Information Technology Infrastructure Limited manager and CM’s former Principal Secretary, M Sivasankar, was arrested.

Ramees & Kerala IT Department

By November 2020, NIA sources revealed that Ramees tried to lure people into funding gold smuggling by promising multi-crore IT projects in Kerala. This disclosure was made by Varikodan Abdul Hameed, who the probe agencies questioned over the gold smuggling case. Hameed is a gold-smuggling Keralite based out of Dubai.

Ramees invited Hameed to Thiruvananthapuram in November 2019. They met Sandeep Nair (another accused and close confidante of several ministers and bureaucrats), who Ramees claimed was a highly-influential person in the IT Department of the Kerala government. Like several others, Sandeep was just a middleman. Hameed said Sandeep asked him to invest in gold smuggling in exchange for government contracts, but he declined the offer.

However, Hameed admitted he concealed gold in the diplomatic baggage and delivered them to the cargo section of the Dubai airport. He claimed he was paid a paltry Rs.10,000 (less than 500 local currency) for each kilo of gold smuggled. However, NIA and the Customs suspected Hameed had bought 9 kg of the smuggled gold and moved it from Dubai.

The controversial IAS officer M Sivasankar was CM Vijayan’s Chief Secretary and IT Secretary. As per the ED’s findings, Sivasankar had allegedly leaked files of the government’s development projects to the accused in the gold smuggling case. He was the most powerful bureaucrat in Kerala between 2016 and 2020, faces multiple charges, and has remained in and out of jail since the gold smuggling scam surfaced.

While all this was happening, Ramees informed all involved to avoid referring to him. Huge financial bounties were offered to keep their mouths shut in case someone got caught.

Though Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan has 20 ministers, he still handles an astonishing 27 Departments, including the lucrative Information Technology one. His daughter Veena Vijayan owns an IT company called Exalogic Solutions Pvt. Ltd. with connections to shady characters like the controversial Jaik Balakrishnan. It is safely registered and works out of Bengaluru.  

Ramees & Jaleel

In August 2020, the National Investigation Agency (NIA), probing the terror funding angle in the smuggling case, got custody of Ramees. The Customs Department also searched the office of a Kerala state government-run Kerala State Centre for Advanced Printing and Training or C-apt office at Vattiyoorkavu in Thiruvananthapuram. C-apt was under then Higher Education Minister K T Jaleel.

This was what investigators found. Swapna Suresh and her team moved the smuggled gold into the Thiruvananthapuram UAE Consulate using the diplomatic route. Many ‘special’ parcels were then despatched using UAE Consulate vehicles to different parts of the city.

That included the cumbersome Biryani vessels that rushed to Cliff House, Pinarayi Vijayan’s abode. She suspected the heavy weight came from the gold hidden inside. Swapna later revealed these were tense moments for Sivasankar, and he relaxed only after assuring the goods reached their proper destination.

A few parcels were delivered to the C-apt office from the Consulate. Jaleel claimed they were mere Ramzan kits and Korans. Still, there were allegations they contained gold hidden inside dry dates and Muslim holy books. Jaleel admitted he asked the UAE Consulate general for such favors but denied the presence of gold. 

Jaleel had used state-owned vehicles to move contraband to his cronies in Malappuram and beyond to avoid suspicion. The former minister has worked with the terror organization SIMI and is accused of infiltrating the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) and CPM. Incidentally, the communists claimed Ramees was close to the senior IUML leader P K Kunhalikutty, which was denied. IUML and Congress are allies in Kerala.

Ramees & Dawood

A fact sheet published by the US Department of the Treasury on Dawood Ibrahim mentioned his gold and diamond activities in Africa. United Nations Security Council sanctions committee regarding Al-Qaeda and ISIS-associated individuals and entities also says the terrorist.

In October 2020, considering their suspected links with Dawood, the NIA special court in Kochi denied bail to the three accused. In contrast, bail was granted to ten others. All those who got bail were those who invested in the smuggling or sold the smuggled gold.

Ramees attempted to start a diamond business in Tanzania and tried to obtain a gold mining license in Tanzania but failed. Ramees revealed that he brought gold from Tanzania and sold it in UAE. Intelligence agencies knew that Dawood’s diamond business in Tanzania was managed by his associate and Keralite, Firoz Oasis. NIA suspected that Ramees might have some connection with Dawood through Firoz.

NIA stated before the court that it suspected the 13th accused, Sharafudeen K T, was close with Ramees. They had traveled together to Tanzania, from where Ramees smuggled gold. Bail was also denied to the 12th accused, Muhammad Ali, a PFI member. Ali was earlier charge-sheeted in the infamous hand-chopping of Professor T J Joseph near Thodupuzha.

Swapna Suresh

While alleged kingpin Ramees got technical bail within two months of his July 2020 arrest due to Customs sloppiness, Swapna Suresh was detained under Customs COFEPOSA provisions for fifteen months. Sivasankar was bailed out in 100 days.

The public understood that Swapna lacked financial support and political clout. She was just a pawn in the hands of the rich and powerful. Swapna understood her troubles more than anyone else and gave her 164 Statement (confessions before a Magistrate). This was when the communist regime that considered her a scapegoat until then began harassing her until she left for Bengaluru.

Recently, her lawyer accused CM Vijayan of using Kerala Police for extrajudicial questioning. Allegedly, a team of police officers ordered Swapna’s husband, Sarith, to appear for an inquiry. This team did not coordinate with local police in Bengaluru but met and grilled Sarith in a mall!

This came after Swapna came on Facebook Live and named the communist leader who allegedly offered her Rs 30 crore as a settlement to withdraw the allegations against the chief minister and his family or face the consequences. Incidentally, she has come up with serious allegations against the whole Vijayan family, but they have not filed even one defamation case against the lady. They have used their cronies for this purpose.

Her latest allegations on Facebook Live prompted a complaint from a local Kannur leader against Swapna. Rather foolishly, he accused her of criminal conspiracy (120B) to wantonly cause riots (Section 153) and other charges. When the matter came up this week, the Kerala High Court intervened and accused the communist regime of hounding her.

While staying the case, the Single Bench of Justice Bechu Kurian Thomas observed, “Swapna Suresh is being harassed personally by the state government.”

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