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ERNAKULAM: Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan has removed his principal secretary M Shivashankar who is allegedly close to the mastermind behind the smuggling case that triggered a political controversy in the state. Shivashankar will be replaced by Mir Muhammad, a young IAS officer, said local media reports.

Some reports, however, said Shivashankar was not removed and that he had applied for leave.

Shivashankar, also the state's IT secretary, had appointed the mastermind Swapna Suresh, a former UAE consulate officer, as the marketing liaison officer of the Space Park under the Kerala State Information Technology Infrastructure Limited (KSITIL).

The customs department on Sunday had aborted a bid to smuggle 30 kg gold, worth around 15 crore, using the diplomatic baggage system. The department said Suresh used her contacts as a former UAE consulate officer to run the smuggling network. It had also arrested Sarith, a former Public Relations Officer of the United Arab Emirates consulate, in connection with the case, who confessed to the crime. It is still unclear who paid for the gold in the UAE and for whom it came. The UAE embassy in India said in a statement that it condemned the attempt t misuse of diplomatic channels and will be cooperating in the investigation.

The opposition had alleged that Suresh was appointed despite a crime branch enquiry against her conduct while she was working at the consulate.

Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala said the decision to remove Shivashankar vindicates his claim that the smuggling operation was aided by the chief minister's office. But the buck stops with the CM and removing the secretary will not be enough, he said. "The CM is afraid that his office will be investigated, so he is trying to save his face by removing the secretary. We are challenging the government to open a CBI enquiry into the incident," said Chennithala.

Suresh's neighbours told Kerala news channels that Shivashankar was a regular visitor to her flat in Thiruvananthapuram.

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