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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

CPM woos IUML after Enforcement Directorate tightens the screws on gold smugglers

Enforcement Directorate (ED) is raiding gold smuggling kingpins in Kerala. As if on cue, the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM) began wooing a party like the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), an ally of the Congress. Is there a connection between gold smuggling from the UAE and the IUML?

Last week, the ED officers seized gold and some cash from the Malappuram and Kozhikode premises of Kerala gold smuggler Aboobacker Pazedath (63). ED officers confiscated 5.058 kg of gold worth 2.52 cr and INR 3.79 lakhs on December 5 from a secret chamber at the premises of Malappuram-based jewellery ‘promoter,’ Pazhedath. He is one of the alleged end buyers and financier of Kerala’s infamous gold smuggling case involving the chief minister’s office and his principal secretary. ED website on Wednesday stated they charged Pazedath under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), 2002.

Gold confiscated from Aboobacker Pazedath-owned Malabar Jewellery (Images courtesy Enforcement Directorate press note)

On December 5, ED raided four premises in Kerala. That included the commercial establishments of Malabar Jewellery (Malappuram), Fine Gold (Malappuram), Atlas Gold Super Markets Pvt. Ltd. (Kozhikode), and the residential premises of Pazhedath. The veteran gold smuggler is a native of Koottilangadi, Malappuram. He has been an active contraband smuggler since the 1980s who began his career by smuggling foreign electronic goods and gold.

Earlier, Swapna Suresh, the prime accused in the Kerala gold smuggling scam, elaborated on how Biryani vessels with unusual weight were delivered from the UAE Consul-General’s residence to CM Pinarayi Vijayan’s official residence. “So, Biryani being edible, food item has a minimum weight…but the vessels had unusual weight…Also, they were delivered without any security checks or protocol arrangements, upon the instructions- the time &  date fixed by M Sivasankar (Vijayan’s principal secretary).” There are allegations that the recently confiscated gold was smuggled using similar biryani vessels.

Aboobacker Pazedath and his accomplices financed the UAE Gold Smuggling Syndicate

Things took a turn when authorities seized gold worth Rs 15 crore from the diplomatic baggage of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Consulate at Thiruvananthapuram Airport on July 5, 2020. It revealed a conspiracy that is the subject of separate investigations by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), the ED, and the Customs department. NIA alleges that the proceeds from gold smuggling are used for anti-national activities. 

30 odd kg of smuggled gold was seized by Customs (Preventive) at Thiruvananthapuram International Airport on 05.07.2020. It was camouflaged as diplomatic baggage of the UAE Consulate, Thiruvananthapuram. PS Sarith (ex-employee UAE Embassy) was arrested, followed by Swapna Suresh (Ex secretary to UAE Consulate-General) and Sandeep Nair (a local crook), and were under ED custody from 05.08.2020 to 17.08.2020. PMLA was filed on 06.10.2020 against all three. 

After further investigation, M Sivasankar IAS, then principal secretary to CM Vijayan, was found assisting the accused persons in gold smuggling and had knowingly helped them hide the crime’s proceeds. ED arrested Sivasankar on 28.10.2020, and he was declared an additional accused.

The ED press note further says that they attached fixed deposits in bank accounts and seized cash from bank lockers totaling Rs. 1.85 Crore (belonging to Swapna, Nair, Sarith, and Sadan Kumar – Sarith’s benami) on 23.12.2020. During an ongoing investigation relating to the seizure of smuggled gold by Customs, it was revealed that Rs. 14.98 Lakhs was handed over by Sarith to his cousin Akhil S. for keeping in safe custody, and this amount was part of the proceeds of crime (commission received) by Sarith and Swapna Suresh out of gold smuggling.

On 15.09.2021, authorities attached Rs. 14.98 Lakh cash and smuggled gold weighing 30.245 Kg (confiscated earlier) valued at Rs. 14.82 Crore (lying in the custody of Cochin Customs). The seized gold belonged to the accused in the gold smuggling case: Aboobacker Pazhedath, Abdul Hameed P. M., Jalal A. M., Rabins K Hameed, Abdu P. T, Mohammed Shafi, Hamjad Ali K., P. T. Ahmedkutty, Hamjad Abdul Salam, Shaijal, Muhammed Shameer, Razal, and Ansil. All of them are from the Malabar region of Kerala.  

The latest ED statement said that “Shri Aboobaker Pazhedath of Malappuram is part of the Gold Smuggling Syndicate headed by Shri Sarith P.S., Smt. Swapna Suresh and Shri Sandeep Nair, under the patronage of Shri Sivasankar, IAS and was one of the beneficiaries.”

Interestingly, an earlier ED report had said that Sarith, Swapna, and Nair were not the end beneficiaries but mere intermediaries who worked for a commission. The latest ED press statement further says that money laundering investigations revealed Pazhedath was part of the gold smuggling syndicate. “Out of the smuggled gold seized by the Customs on 05.07.2020, 3 Kgs. of gold belonged to the said Shri Aboobacker Pazhedath, who is the Promoter of Malabar Jewellery & Fine Gold Jewellery, both based in Malappuram, Kerala and one of the shareholders of Atlas Gold Super Markets Pvt. Ltd., Kozhikode, Kerala.”

The ED added that “On examination under PMLA, Shri. Aboobacker Pazedath had admitted that 3 kg of Gold Seized (on 05.07.2020) by Customs belonged to him. Apart from that, he had also revealed that he had similarly smuggled 6 kg of gold through the diplomatic baggage of the UAE Consulate. The amount for buying the smuggled gold was raised from Pazedath’s business firms Malabar Jewellery, Fine Gold & Atlas Gold Super Markets Pvt. Ltd”. 

At the bust’s time in mid-2020, the racket’s scale was massive. Around 300 kg of gold was smuggled in 13 consignments through diplomatic channels via the Thiruvananthapuram airport in the past year. The NIA was handed the case, Swapna and Nair were arrested on July 12, 2020, and Sivasankar’s residence was raided. He was questioned and suspended. 

Kerala Police submitted a report to NIA that identified the Koduvally area of Kozhikode district as the ‘hub of gold smuggling.’ The report also reiterated NIA’s suspicion of the money and gold smuggling being used for terror activities by extremists and Islamist groups. It also highlighted that over 100 kgs of gold had been smuggled in and out, along with Rs 1,000 crore of hawala transactions in the past year. Later, the NIA said that the accused had knowingly conspired since June 2019, raised funds, and smuggled 167 kg of gold from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) through import cargo addressed to the diplomats at the Consulate General of the UAE in Thiruvananthapuram. 

By July 16, 2020, two Malappuram natives were arrested in connection with the case. Customs detained Muhammad Anwar TM from Manjeri and Saidalavi E from Vengara during the early hours. On July 18, 2020, raids were held at three jewelers in Malappuram and Kozhikode to find the end buyers. Abdul Hameed P M (54) of Koottilangadi, Malappuram (Ameen Gold), and Pazedath, the alleged financiers of the racket, was summoned to the customs office in Kochi based on a statement from Saidalavi and arrested. They were both remanded.

Back then, Customs raided Heza Jewellery at Arakkinar in Kozhikode, owned by Muhammad Abdu Shameem (26) from Koduvally and another CV Jifzal (39). Authorities unearthed 3.7 kg of unaccounted gold. The customs team also searched the house of Jifzal at Vattakkinar in Kozhikode. Jifzal was arrested in 2019 for smuggling gold through Kochi Nedumbassery airport. Koduvally, Shameem owned and was a partner in several jewelry outlets, was close to the main accused in the UAE gold smuggling case, and had traveled to and met them at Thiruvananthapuram on several occasions.

Also raided was the house of Faisal Fareed, one of the accused in the gold-smuggling case, at Moonnupeedika near Kaipamangalam in Thrissur district. He was the one who bought, prepared, and smuggled the gold from Dubai. Fareed is a permanent resident of the UAE, along with his family, who seldom visit Kerala. NIA and Customs officials had even flown to Dubai (in the middle of the raging Covid virus) to bring Fareed down to Bharat. They had failed then, and now it seems they have no idea where he is! 

Communist mouthpieces quickly announced they were jewelry owners and Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) workers with longstanding links to IUML heavyweights and smuggling rackets.

Gold smuggler & IUML leader Abdul Hameed PM (Images courtesy deshabhimani.com)

The Gold Smuggling Case becomes inactive

Hindupost had reported that this was where things went awry. By early 2021, the NIA admitted in court that Fareed, the Thrissur native who procured and booked the gold from Dubai, was absconding. NIA had earlier maintained that Faisal was under Dubai police custody.

UAE Embassy In-charge and other corrupt officials who allegedly participated proactively in the smuggling saga and other financial frauds left Bharat in a hurry when the scandal broke. Those officials refused and still refuse to cooperate with our authorities. The criminals arrested by the NIA and charged with terror financing under the UAPA approached the court. They pleaded that their crime was merely tax evasion. 

One by one, several key accused obtained bail. Swapna, Sarith, and Nair’s bail were well publicized while the media neglected the smugglers. Citing one missing link (Fareed), even though there was plenty of other evidence, our courts granted bail to smugglers and bureaucrats who wield enormous clout. In court, Sivasankar’s fellow bureaucrats in the Customs Department did not even object to the bail. Even after all these years, the NIA has failed to bring in Fareed, a Bharat passport holder.    

Faisal Fareed giving interviews from Dubai after the UAE consulate gold smuggling scam was exposed

Discreet ED inquiries revealed Pazhedath was still indulging in gold smuggling-related activities through his above-mentioned dubious firms. Hence, searches were conducted at the said firms and the residential premises of Pazhedath, which resulted in the recovery and seizure of gold along with Bharatiya currency. The ED press note claimed that a further investigation is in progress. The current location of Pazhedath and the rest of the smugglers remains unknown.

CPM woos IUML

Koottilangadi is part of the Mankada constituency. Except for a brief period between 2001 to 2006, Mankada has been an Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) stronghold since 1957, when elections to the Kerala assembly began. Similar is the case with most constituencies in Malappuram. IUML leaders have held their positions since elections began. IUML is centered in and around the Malabar region, ie. Kasargod, Malappuram, Kozhikode & Wayanad.  

IUML is now part of the United Democratic Front (UDF), the Indian National Congress-led alliance. UDF has 41 constituencies in Kerala; Congress holds 21, while the IUML has 15. The IUML holds 11 seats, while the Congress holds one out of the 16 seats in Malappuram. IUML is the original proponent of political Islam in Bharat, and its leaders have a history of brutality and greed regarding power. It has been almost seven years since they have remained sidelined.

The ED raids on IUML leaders began on December 5 and were reported on December 7. By December 10, CPI(M) state secretary and Politburo member M V Govindan proclaimed that Congress ally IUML is ‘not communal’ but is a ‘democratic’ party working for the minorities! Govindan’s sudden move, giving secular credentials to a party that the Left has always branded as a communal organization, proved that the communists are keen to get closer to the IUML. 

CPM Kerala State Secretary MV Govindan justifying Indian Union Muslim League (IMages courtesy asianetnews)

IUML chief Syed Sadiqali Shihab Thangal said they were happy about the CPM’s new viewpoint. Although IUML has not openly indicated any political shift, the party is uncomfortable within UDF of late. As the name suggests, IUML has a predominantly Muslim support base. CPM’s green communists have often acted as per the whims and fancies of the radical Islamist organization Samastha Kerala Jemiyyathul Ulema.

Samastha is a powerful pro-IUML extremist group of Muslim scholars based out of Malabar. They made the communists withdraw the decision to hand over Wakf Board appointments to the state Public Service Commission and introduce gender-neutral school uniforms. Samastha forced the CPM to cancel the appointment of Sriram Venkitaraman as the Alappuzha district collector. CPM has also opposed the Uniform Civil Code Bill in parliament at Samastha’s behest.

Many Samastha leaders have recently come out supporting the LDF. Samastha secretary Umer Faizy recently said there is nothing wrong in supporting the communist government if that is beneficial for Muslims. He added that the governments in Kerala and Tamil Nadu stood with the Muslims during the agitation against CAA. Samastha has repeatedly proved that they do not mind X, Y, or Z ruling Kerala as long as their pro-Islamist demands are met. They are also the same ones who term the BJP as ‘fascist’.

Till recently, though the Marxists had an anti-Hindu attitude, they were not openly pro-Muslim. Anti-national activities like gold smuggling that are used to create a parallel economy in our country were shared between the IUML and the now-banned Popular Front of India (PFI). All this changed after the gold smuggling saga emerged in mid-2020. This was when the communists started wooing the radical Muslim segment, ultimately regaining state rule in mid-2021 with their support.

The central government has done well in banning the radical terror organization PFI. Even as Delhi tries to end the parallel economy, ‘Babudom,’ based out of Lutyens Delhi, has allegedly encouraged the same with their lethargy and complicity. Recent developments and our legal system have encouraged several new players to join the bandwagon.

IUML leaders enjoy far more clout in UAE than they do in Bharat. Communist influence is now limited to Kerala. Some analysts allege that more than the votes, CPM is after the gold. The communists also indulge in Pottikkal i.e. snatching smuggled gold. Why grab and create unnecessary controversies when you can share?

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