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Sunday, June 4, 2023

Top Customs officer investigating Swapna Suresh gold smuggling case survives bid on life in Malappuram

Mr. Sumit Kumar, IRS, the Commissioner of Customs (Preventive) and the chief investigating officer in the Swapna Suresh gold smuggling case escaped unhurt after his official vehicle was attacked near Edavannappara in Malappuram district of North Kerala. Kumar says that the powerful smuggling mafia is trying to eliminate him. 

Kumar is the top official in the Kerala Customs department investigating the Swapna Suresh gold smuggling case in which even the Kerala Chief Minister’s office stands implicated. He was traveling in his official vehicle to the Kozhikode International Airport from Kalpatta in Wayanad after inaugurating a customs office, when the incident occurred.

The assailants followed Kumars’s car in a couple of two-wheelers and cars. They tried to push the officer’s vehicle off the road when they approached steep climbs, trying to engineer a road accident. This occurred not once but four times. Kumar’s driver managed to dodge the attempts, and upon reaching the airport his team filed a complaint with Kondotty Police in Malappuram.

Though Kumar joked that the mafia should hire more professional henchmen, there are sinister forces lurking in this case. Kumar added that since the noose was tightening around the criminals, retaliation was expected. The intimidation tactics don’t seem to have had the desired effect on the official, as yet. 

Investigations into 3-4 earlier attempts to hurt him, though intimated to the police, have reached nowhere, Kumar said. Kozhikode Airport, also known as Karipur Airport, is situated in Malappuram district. Kumar handed over the vehicle numbers to the police who are investigating. The vehicles had Ernakulam based plates and are owned by a Mukkam, Kozhikode based native. Customs officials too are enquiring and are on the lookout for the assailants.

A New Indian Express report add that attacks on officials investigating gold smuggling cases are frequently reported from Malappuram district. Last year, a gang involved in gold smuggling had attacked the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) officials. Two officers were injured in the attack.

Gold smuggling through UAE diplomatic route

It was the Customs department that had written to the President of Bharat intimating the gold smuggling using the diplomatic immunity route. It was then that warrants were issued and the packages to the UAE Embassy official were seized at Thiruvananthapuram airport in July of last year. They were then opened in the presence of top Embassy officials. Gold worth 15 crores was found hidden in hardware items, knowledge of which was denied by the embassy officials, and it was confiscated.

It should be noted here that IAS M. Sivasankar, former Principal Secretary to CM Pinarayi Vijayan, after having spent more than three months in jail as an accused in the the gold smuggling case had been granted bail by the Economic Offences Court of Kerala barely one week back. The customs had also interrogated him earlier for reverse hawala  dollar transactions carried out by the same smuggling ring. 

But Sivasankar’s name is also suspiciously missing from the NIA charge sheet. It is the NIA that is investigating the anti-national and terrorism funding angle in the gold smuggling racket, under the UAPA. Swapna Suresh and other accomplices are still languishing in jail as they were charged under both UAPA and the COFEPOSA acts and are under preventive custody. These laws deny them bail for one year. 

Multiple attempts by the accused to procure bail have been thwarted by the NIA when they filed a charge sheet under the UAPA with a special court. This was last month and that trial is coming up soon. The court has asked NIA to submit evidence confirming the terror angle in the case. 

This is where Kumar and the customs department will play a major role. Under the witness protection program, details on any information or the identity of the informers in such high profile cases cannot be shared even using RTI. This makes Kumar an important piece of the puzzle and it is his department which will have to produce critical evidence in the court. Hence muzzling his voice would be high on the priority list for the gold smuggling mafia which clearly has friends in high places within Kerala.

Important questions that need answers

  • Who provided the assailant’s information about Kumar’s movements? 
  • With a huge apparatus providing security and escorts to all and sundry, why isn’t Kumar being provided protection? 
  • Why was Sivasankar granted bail even after it was mentioned in court that he could try and intimidate third parties in this case?
  • Priorities of the local police seem misplaced when it was decided that a Sub Inspector of Police would search for the assailants. Why isn’t a senior police officer investigating? What happened to the earlier cases of attempts on Kumar?
  • Koduvally, where the assailants started following Kumar is also the gold hub of Kerala where the bulk of the smuggled gold is melted and sold. How could such lawlessness happen and why did the local police and intelligence fail, yet again? 

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