Parties at her place would start around 8pm and go on till the wee hours. Guests of honour reportedly included the most powerful IAS official in the state – M Sivasankar – who until his recent sacking held the posts of both CM’s Principal Secretary and IT (Information Technology) secretary; the Kerala IT Ministry is handled by CM Pinarayi Vijayan himself. Welcome to the world of Swapna Suresh – the woman at the centre of a gold smuggling racket that is threatening the highest echelons of Kerala Government, with international repercussions and links to terrorism finance.
On 3rd July, customs officials at Thiruvananthapuram airport seized a diplomatic baggage addressed to a diplomat in the United Arab Emirate (UAE) Consulate in Thiruvananthapuram, capital city of Kerala. The bag which arrived by a chartered flight from UAE and was declared as containing food items, actually contained 30 kg gold worth Rs 15 crore, shaped into cylindrical tubes.
On the following Monday, former PRO of the UAE Consulate, Sarith Kumar, went to the airport to collect the baggage using a fake id and was arrested. It is alleged that as soon as this package was detained at customs, frantic phone calls were made from the CM’s Office (CMO) asking for the package to be released to Sarith. Later, investigators turned their attention on another former UAE Consulate staff, Swapna Suresh.
Who is Swapna Suresh?
Born and brought up in UAE, Swapna could converse well in both Arabic and Malayalam, which some say was her best and only educational qualification. In 2002, she got married and was operating a bar business along with her husband in the Gulf. However, around 2010 she got divorced and returned back to Kerala with her child. With no degree and an IATA diploma, she started working at a travel agency in Thiruvananthapuram.
In 2013, she joined Air India-SATS and later the UAE Consulate, where she got well acquainted with flight operations and diplomatic consignments. This is how she learned the tricks of gold smuggling and started enjoying a lavish lifestyle.
During her time at Air-India SATS, she quickly climbed the corporate ladder and allegedly coerced other female employees into charging labour union representative LS Shibu with sexual harassment. Kerala Crime Branch later found that the whole case was concocted by Swapna; she apologised by submitting an affidavit. The case is still pending in courts.
In 2016 she joined the UAE Consulate as an executive secretary, where she allegedly learnt to forge consulate documents to enjoy diplomatic immunity. She started meeting bigwigs, bureaucrats and was seen partying at all the hip places in town. She left the Consulate job last year, but claimed to continue working on a ‘work on request’ basis. The Consulate is where she met Rashid Khamis Al Sheimeili, A UAE citizen with diplomatic immunity who was allegedly her partner in smuggling gold using using the diplomatic route. Swapna claims she only contacted Customs to release the baggage on behalf of the Al Sheimeli, who is the present acting charge of the UAE Consulate General of UAE.
She reportedly owns assets worth crores, with investments in real estate and a car shop. Her cut for every smuggling run was Rs 15 lakhs. The scale of the racket was massive: around 300 kg of gold was smuggled in 13 consignments through diplomatic channels via the Thiruvananthapuram airport in the last one year.
After leaving the UAE Consulate, Swapna started working as Operations Manager at the Space Park under the Kerala State IT Infrastructure Ltd (KSITIL) which reports to the IT Secretary. It is said that M Sivasankar appointed her through KSITIL’s consultant Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC). PwC claims that Swapna was on the payroll of a third party, thereby trying to wash their hands off the matter.
Swapna apparently was a regular visitor to the CM’s office and also accompanied the CM during his sojourns to gulf countries for flood relief appeals and other official business.
As per media reports, Swapna Suresh came on the radar of intelligence agencies ever since those arrested in the Shamna Kasim extortion case revealed details about a ‘deal woman’ involved in gold smuggling.
After being on the run for a week, Swapna and another accused Sandeep Nair were arrested by NIA on 11 July from Bengaluru. It is not clear how they managed to exit Kerala, evading the multiple police checks at state borders in place due to the COVID-19 lockdown.
Links to CM Pinarayi Vijayan
Sivasankar, the blue-eyed bureaucrat of Kerala communists was equally entrenched among Kerala’s media fraternity and left-leaning intellectual class. The same officer had only recently been in the limelight for granting a contract to US-based Sprinklr using his ‘discretionary powers’ which exposed data of Covid suspects to a private entity without their consent. The Kerala High Court had to intervene in the matter and the deal was dropped. Sivasankar was also under the scanner for alleged corruption in BevQ app contract awarded for liquor sale management.
Sivasankar was a regular at Swapna Suresh’s flat and other residents at the complex have accused him of drunk brawling at her flat late at night a couple of years back. Police were called to rescue a security guard who was beaten up following an altercation with the IAS officer. That case was later hushed up with the security guard himself saying that he didn’t expect justice.
CM Pinarayi Vijayan doggedly tried to protect Sivasankar, but was finally forced to suspend the IAS officer on 16th July after he was grilled for a marathon 9 hours by Customs officials. The CM says that the state government has nothing to do in this case since ‘airports are under the jurisdiction of the central government’!
P Sreeramakrishnan, CPM MLA from Ponnani and the Assembly Speaker himself admits that Swapna was not a stranger. He opined that she was a consulate diplomat while in fact she was the diplomat’s secretary. He admitted that at Swapna’s request, he had recently inaugurated a car workshop opened by another accused in the smuggling case, Sandeep Nair. The speaker also added that the government had approached Swapna for official business pertaining to UAE Consulate.
The CM has repeatedly said that he does not remember Swapna, but critics say if his office and residence CCTV footage is examined it will prove how frequently she visited there. Kerala Police’s role in the matter has also been murky – Customs asked them to provide CCTV footage of Thiruvananthapuram airport but were told by police that they have not installed any CCTV cameras on the airport premises. It is no surprise that Customs (which comes under Union Ministry of Finance) declined police help to catch the absconding Swapna.
Before she was caught, an audio clip of Swapna went viral on all TV channels. Claiming innocence, she threatened suicide and also spoke about attempts to destabilise the government before the upcoming assembly elections – a signal from her side showing loyalty to the CPM government and asking for their protection?
Pinarayi and the CPM, meanwhile, have also been claiming innocence based on Aneesh P Rajan, Joint Commissioner of Customs, telling local media that no calls had come from the CM’s office. Aneesh later refused to answer follow-up questions and asked media to approach the Customs Commissioner instead. But his initial defence of the CM is being questioned after it emerged that his brother Reneesh is a CPM Councillor from Kochi and now an area committee member. Moreover, Aneesh was posted at Kochi airport whereas the gold was discovered at Thiruvananthapuram airport.
A common link between all bureaucrats, politicians and smugglers linked to this case seems to be their Students Federation of India (SFI) affiliation. SFI is the students wing of the CPM. Both Aneesh and M Sivasankar are products of the SFI.
On 10 July, the centre assigned NIA (National Investigative Agency) to investigate the case seeing its serious national security implications and the likely involvement of the state government machinery. Currently, a write petition filed by one Michael Varghese for CBI probe against CM Pinarayi Vijayan in the gold smuggling and other corruption cases has been listed as a PIL by the High Court.
Controversy around PwC and CMO
The UK-based Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) seems to be the favoured consultancy firm of Kerala’s communist government.
As KSITIL’s consultant, it is said to behind many dubious backdoor appointments such as Swapna Suresh’s appointment as the Operations Manager of Space Park project. PwC says she was sourced through third-party agency Vision Technologies. Swapna’s offer letter, which shows a CTC of Rs. 13,50,000 per annum for a 6-month contract, bears the name of Vision Technology, a Faridabad-based company that appears to be defunct with no physical staff and non-functional email and phone.
A commerce degree certificate of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Technological University submitted by Swapna has now come up as fake. KSITIL has demanded an explanation from PwC on how the MNC posted a a candidate with a fake certificate for a government project.
Like Swapna, PWC has got seven staff appointed to the government’s K-Fon project launched to provide free high speed internet to 20 Lakh BPL families in Kerala. Opposition has alleged that PwC has been sanctioned an office at the govt. Secretariat and PwC employees working as consultants have been promised monthly salaries of up to Rs. 3 lakh by the govt., which is more than the chief secretary’s salary.
The controversial MNC consultancy firm is also involved in the Kerala Government’s e-mobility project. The plan is to purchase 3000 electric ‘green’ buses by 2022 for public transportation at a cost of Rs. 4,500- 6,000 crore through a joint venture between Kerala Automobiles Ltd. and Swiss bus manufacturer, Hess AG. The Kerala Government represented by KSITIL had reportedly granted this contract to PWC without floating any tenders.
UAE & terror financing link
The gold could not have been smuggled into the country without the help of insiders, both in UAE and Kerala. The diplomatic bag in which the gold was being smuggled was officially approved, signed off, secured by a tamper-evident seal and couriered by the UAE government to the wife of Charge d’ Affairs and acting Consul General Rashid Khamis Al Sheimeili. In Bharat, Al Sheimeili or his wife had issued a letter to receive the bag.
The bag was finally opened in presence of Al Sheimeili. However, he left the country on 12 July before Customs could question him. It remains to be seen how strongly the Union Government pursues this case with UAE.
Another key accused in the case is Faisal Fareed, who hails from Thrissur, and runs a gym and garage in Dubai. He is the one who sent the gold consignment to Al Sheimeili and is believed to be a seasoned smuggler. He was arrested last Friday by Dubai police, and should be extradited soon as NIA has charged him with terrorism funding.
Customs have also arrested one Rameez K T, suspected to be a major link between Sandeep Nair and persons who invest in smuggling. A native of Malappuram, the district which is also the base of radical Islamist organisation PFI, Rameez has confessed about the role of an Arab national. Two more men arrested from Malappuram district are Aboobacker and Abdul Hameed. So far, NIA has arrested 4 while Customs has nabbed 13 people in connection with the gold smuggling case.
NIA has told a special court in Kochi that the proceeds of this gold smuggling might be used for terror funding. Some terror groups had started dealing with gold as it had become difficult for them to handle cash. Customs has unearthed a hawala channel headquartered in Hyderabad which was used to both finance the purchase of gold in UAE (where it’s cheaper), and launder proceeds of the illegal sales in Kerala. Financiers included some jewellry shops and persons with links to a proscribed Islamist outfit.
KT Jaleel – from SIMI to Minister for Higher Education
Another person who is fast emerging at the centre of this gold smuggling racket is Pinarayi’s cabinet minister KT Jaleel, MLA from Thavanur in Malappuram district and Minister for Higher Education.
Phone call records of Jaleel from May onwards revealed that he had been in constant touch with Swapna. In June alone, there were 9 calls between them. A member of Jaleel’s personal staff had talked with other accused Sarith and Swapna thrice on highly suspicious dates: June 24, 25 and July 3. It is said that the smuggled gold in diplomatic bag arrived at the Thiruvananthapuram International Airport on June 24.
When confronted with the evidence, Jaleel claimed he was asked by the UAE Consulate to contact Swapna regarding ‘distribution of Ramzan food kits’. He denied knowledge of Swapna’s current role with KSITIL, but admitted having known her since the past four years.
Jaleel reportedly released a WhatApp chat screenshot which he claims shows him talking to the UAE Consul who asks Jaleel to contact Swapna for procuring 1000 food kits costing Rs. 500 Rupees/kit to distribute in Malappuram. But this violates the code of conduct for ministers who are prohibited from accepting any gifts from foreign dignitaries if value of said item is above Rs.5,000/. Also, this is a violation of the Ministry of External Affairs protocol for foreign missions in Bharat.
Jaleel also shared an invoice dated 16-6-20 for purchase of food supplies worth Rs 5 lakhs and photos of him distributing the kits at a CPM party office. But why were these kits, supposedly procured for donation during the muslim festival of Ramzan/Eid-ul-Fitar which ended on 25-5-20, given away more than three weeks later? The minister claims the Covid-19 outbreak had ‘delayed the food-kit preparation’.
Now, lets delve a little more into KT Jaleel`s history. In 1986, he was the candidate for Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) Chairman at PSMO Arabic college in Tirurangadi. Jaleel is also a Professor of History at the same college. His Ph.D topic was an attempt to white wash the Hindu pogrom which took place during the Moplah Muslim Malabar rebellion of 1921. SIMI was later banned and many ex-members joined hands to form the Popular Front of India (PFI), an equally radical and violent group of extremists which has been accused of murdering ideological opponents, organising terror camps and funding anti-CAA riots in Delhi and West UP.
Jaleel then joined the students wing of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), Congress’ coalition partner, called the Muslim Students Federation (MSF). He revolted against its top leadership and went on to join hands with the Communists. Jaleel was able to defeat Kunjalikutty, a powerful IUML leader and accused in the infamous ice cream parlour sex racket case, with the support of the CPM. He was ultimately rewarded with a ministerial berth in 2016 when the communists came to power in Kerala.
The rot in Kerala is clear for all to see. Lumpen elements and Islamic fundamentalists are wreaking havoc in the state – no law-abiding citizen or business is safe if they doesn’t cough up money to the communist goons while police stands by helplessly. Politicisation of colleges and universities is complete – SFI (CPM student wing) has converted student union offices into ‘torture chambers’. A person as eminent as ‘Metroman’ E Sreedharan has slammed the Pinarayi government and warned of the “doom awaiting Kerala.” Murders of Hindu leaders and activists has become a routine occurrence.
And now we have this mega-smuggling racket with links to the highest levels of government. If this does not constitute grounds for the CM to resign, what does? If a BJP chief minister had committed even a fraction of the egregious crimes that Pinarayi Vijayan must answer for, he/she would have been crucified by Lutyens media by now.
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