Kerala Gold Smuggling: 2 Key Accused Sent To 3-Day Judicial Custody

Swapna Suresh and Sandeep Nair were brought to Kochi from Bengaluru - where they were taken into custody - this afternoon.

Swapna Suresh and Sandeep Nair have been sent to a three-day judicial custody.

Thiruvananthapuram:

The two key accused in the smuggling of 30 kg gold through diplomatic channel in Kerala's Thiruvananthapuram have been sent to three-day judicial custody by the National Investigation Agency or NIA in Kochi.

Swapna Suresh and Sandeep Nair were brought to Kochi from Bengaluru - where they were taken into custody - this afternoon.

The Opposition parties staged protests at the state border as the convoy moved into Kerala as well as outside the NIA office.

The accused will be sent to a COVID Care Centre in the state since they have been brought from another state.

The NIA court will hear the petition on extending their custody after their COVID-19 test results are out.

Ms Suresh and Mr Nair were missing since their names cropped up in the case. Another accused, Sarith, has already been arrested by the Customs (Preventive) Department.

The NIA had on Friday registered the FIR under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and said it has taken up the probe as the case has international linkages and as the initial inquiries have revealed the proceeds of the smuggled gold could be used for financing terrorism in India.

The customs has taken into custody another person from Malappuram related to this case, and sources in the customs department say they have some evidence of their involvement  in this case and that he needs to be questioned. A customs official said he will be presented before the magistrate, but did not reveal details of the person at this point.

"No matter how highly anyone is positioned, the law is above them. And we are going to get them," Customs Commissioner Sumit Kumar told NDTV.

The accused named in the case are Sarith, Swapna Prabha Suresh, Fazil Fareed and Sandeep Nair.

Opposition leader in Kerala, Ramesh Chennithala, has alleged that the accused was helped by the state police.

"How can Swapna Suresh reach Bengaluru when there is a triple lockdown under way in Thiruvananthapuram city? It is evident that the police helped her," Mr Chennithala alleged.

BJP state president K Surendran has raised a similar allegation. He tweeted:

The gold valued at around Rs 15 crore was seized by the Customs (Preventive) Commissionerate, Kochi. Swapna Suresh, Sarith and Sandeep Nair of Thiruvananthapuram and Fazil Fareed of Ernakulam have been listed in the smuggling case as accused.

Ms Suresh is a former employee of the UAE consulate and a former marketing officer of a firm linked to Kerala's information technology department. The Chief Minister's Office said her contract was terminated after the serious allegations surfaced.

The opposition has alleged the accused has links with the Chief Minister's Office, and that they were attempts to shield her. The Chief Minister has denied this. An IAS officer has been removed from the Chief Minister's Office and replaced as IT secretary amid protests by the opposition.

"From the evidence gathered so far it appears that Ms Swapna Suresh is a pivotal member of a gang engaged in smuggling of large quantities of gold to India by defrauding government agencies and customs department by using the cover of diplomatic protection and further she has conspired and actively participated to facilitate the act of smuggling," the customs department said in a report submitted to the court.

The customs alleged that officials started checking the baggage at 1 pm on July 5 and Ms Suresh switched off her phone by 3.15 pm. The report said she is on the run and is avoiding summons to evade the probe.

The wife of Sandeep Nair - the other accused taken into custody has in her statement to Customs had said that her husband used to "smuggle gold with the help of Sarith and Swapna". She alleged they would do so for other gangs as well.

"Ms Swapna would arrange papers for getting cargo of the consulate cleared from the air cargo complex," Mr Nair's wife has said.

Sandeep Nair's home was being raided by officials of Customs Department at Aruvikkara, news agency ANI reported.