Kerala's controversial gold smuggling case, the first in the country where a consignment of gold was seized while moving through a diplomatic route, will be taken over by National Investigation Agency or NIA, citing implications to national security.
The move could have ramifications for state politics too, as a prime suspect, Swapna Suresh, is alleged to be close to state's political leaders and officials.
"Ministry of Home Affairs permits National Investigation Agency to investigate the Thiruvananthapuram Airport Gold smuggling case, as the organised smuggling operation may have serious implications for national security," a spokesperson of the department said, ANI reported.
Foreign ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said: “The Customs Authorities, following established protocol and procedure, have seized a consignment sent from abroad in the name of an official working in the Consulate General of the United Arab Emirates in Thiruvananthapuram."
“The Ministry of External Affairs had kept the Embassy of the UAE informed regarding the matter. The UAE Mission has extended all cooperation to the Customs Authorities in examining the said consignment. The matter is under further investigation," he said.
The customs announced the seizure of 30 kg of gold, worth ₹15 crore on Sunday, its largest haul so far in the state. The Ministry of External Affairs and other central agencies have been reportedly kept in the loop regarding the investigation. Diplomatic agents have protection and immunity from the usual screening as per the Vienna Convention and Foreign Privileged Persons (Regulations of Customs Privileges) Rules, 1957.
The case kicked up a political storm in the state with the opposition parties alleging that Suresh, a former United Arab Emirates (UAE) consulate employee, enjoyed patronage from the ruling communist government. She was a contract staff at Price WaterhouseCoopers Ltd (PWC), which was engaged by the state government for a project, and was terminated from the post after the smuggling case hit the headlines.
The state government on Tuesday removed M. Sivasankar, secretary to Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, from his post following allegations of his proximity to Suresh. Some pictures of her standing next to a cross-section of political leaders in the state, including ministers, opposition leader and the speaker, had raised doubts of her influence.
Swapna Suresh, who is absconding, has claimed innocence in an anticipatory bail plea filed on Thursday. She alleged that she was directed to enquire about the seized cargo by an officer at the consulate. The consulate had denied it. In a sound clip sent to local news channels on Thursday, claiming to be that of Swapna Suresh, she said her pictures circulating on the media currently were taken during official events while she was working as a former Secretary to the UAE Consul General.
Vijayan, who is set to face election next year, had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday welcoming any Central investigation into the case.