A voice clip purported to be that of gold smuggling case key accused Swapna Suresh, now in judicial custody, alleging Central agencies were putting pressure on her to give a statement against Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan created a stir in Kerala. While a probe was ordered by the prison department into the episode on Thursday, the ruling CPI-M said the alleged use of probe agencies “to target the chief minister” and the government was a very serious matter.
Union Minister of State V Muraleedharan and the state Congress slammed the Left front government, alleging it was a “political plot” to divert attention from corruption charges ahead of the local body elections next month. In the clip, released by an online news portal on Wednesday, Suresh purportedly said that the investigation agencies allegedly tried to force her to take the name of Vijayan, which she refused to do.
She was also asked to sign documents regarding her statement without being permitted to read them, it was alleged. The Customs, the National Investigation Agency and the Enforcement Directorate are conducting separate probes into the gold smuggling racket using diplomatic channel that was busted with the seizure of Rs 15 crore worth of the precious metal from a baggage of the UAE Consulate at Thiruvananthapuram airport on July 5. Suresh, a former employee of the consulate, and several others have been arrested in connection with the case.
Following surfacing of the voice clip, Prisons DGP Rishiraj Singh ordered a probe directing South Zone DIG Ajay Kumar to look into the matter and submit a report on Thursday itself. “DIG south zone is probing the matter. The genuineness of the voice note will also be probed. We will seek the help of the cyber cell of Kerala police in the matter,” Singh told reporters.
Shortly later, Ajaykumar visited the Attakulangara women prison here, where Suresh is lodged, and later told mediapersons that she had admitted the voice in the clip was hers. But, the recording was not made in the jail. Muraleedharan alleged the voice clip was planted by the chief minister’s office and it was a conspiracy ahead of the local body polls to derail the probe reaching Vijayan’s office.
“Swapna Suresh is in jail. This is a move by the CMO to derail the probe reaching the CMO. This is a drama by the CPI (M). It doesn’t have any importance, he told reporters here. The probe agency has arrested only one person from the CM’s office (an apparent reference to Vijayan’s former principal secretary M Sivasankar) and a few others from Muvattupuzha and Malappuram.
The agencies were moving forward to bring the culprits to justice and to find the origin and the end user in the smuggling racket, he said, adding they will proceed based on the evidence available with them. “This (the voice clip) was a move by the CPI(M) to strengthen their campaign that the investigating agencies are targeting the chief minister’s office. So the political beneficiary is the CM”, he claimed.
State Congress President Mullapally Ramachandran said the audio clip was an attempt by the state government to wriggle out of the various corruption charges being faced by it. The CPI(M), in a statement, ‘attempts’ to force the accused to turn approver amounts to challenging the democracy and the law of the land.
“It’s clear from the voice note released by the media houses that there was pressure on the accused to give a statement against the chief minister. The accused said she was not given a chance to read her statement submitted before the court.” The court in Kochi, which had refused bail to Sivasankar, had expressed doubts at the veracity of the statement filed by the probe agency,the statement claimed. The suspended IAS officer, whose bail plea was turned down in an Enforcement Directorate case related to the money laundering charges in the gold smuggling case,had also submitted before the court that there was pressure on him to mention names of political leadership in his statement.
The ED had in a counter in the court denied the claim of Sivasankar as false, saying it had been made with malafide intention.