February 3, 2023

Kerala gold smuggling: M Sivasankar in ED custody after HC rejects anticipatory bail

The Kerala High Court passed the order on two separate bail pleas filed by Sivasankar apprehending arrest by Customs investigating the gold smuggling and ED probing the money trail in the case.

Dismissing the anticipatory bail plea of senior IAS officer M Sivasankar in the gold smuggling case, the Kerala High Court on Wednesday said there are indications that the bureaucrat “was overseeing the management of finances of Swapna Suresh,” a key accused in the smuggling.

Soon after the court rejected his anticipatory bail plea, Sivasankar was taken into custody by ED officials from an ayurvedic centre in the state capital, where he has been undergoing treatment.

Sivasankar had been the principal secretary to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, but was removed from the post in July this year following the expose of his links to the gang that had smuggled in gold using diplomatic cargo to the UAE Consulate here.

The ED had earlier found that Sivasankar had taken initiative with chartered accountant P Venugopal to help Swapna open a bank locker.

The investigating agency had seized cash amounting to Rs 64,00,000 and 982.5 gm of gold from one locker and Rs 36,50,000 from another— these have been identified as proceeds of the smuggling. Using the diplomatic cargo route to the UAE Consulate, around 166 kg of gold was smuggled in the last one year on various occasions.

The high court observed, “even though applicant dissociated from activities of deposit in the locker, there is some indication in the communication between petitioner Sivasankar and Venugopal that he was overseeing the management of finances of Swapna.’’

The court said though ED has not concluded to make him an accused, it has given strong indications that the applicant may be involved in money laundering with Swapna. The statements of the chartered accountant and Swapna strongly indicate involvement of applicant Sivasankar.

The court rejected Sivasankar’s stand that he, as the principal secretary to the Chief Minister, had interacted with Swapna considering that she had been the executive secretary to the Consul-General at the UAE Consulate. “If that be so, there is no need for him to interfere in matters concerning management of her finances,’’ said the court.

Admitting the arguments of Additional Solicitor General S.V. RAJU and special public prosecutor T.A Unnikrishnan, the court said the fact that Sivasankar had intervened in the management of the finances of Swapna is a situation adverse to him.

The court said that considering the gravity of the offences under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, the petitioner is not entitled for the discretionary relief. “Probably, there may not be sufficient evidence at present to implicate him as accused. And there also may not be sufficient evidence to suggest he is guilty. But ED has collected sufficient material to interrogate him for which he is bound to cooperate as a senior government officer.”

 

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