The Customs department has filed two new cases - involving consignments of dates and Qurans from the UAE consulate in Kerala's Thiruvananthapuram. These cases of offence were filed at the end of August.
"Customs has registered two cases regarding consignments of dates (in 2017) and Qurans (in 2020) from the UAE consulate. Prima facie these appear to be cases of fraud and duty evasion. Both consignments involve the foreign diplomat who ordered them and the consignments being handed over to the state government in some form," Sumit Kumar, Customs Commissioner (Preventive), told NDTV.
"The consulate claimed an exemption from duty for personal use. The state protocol department endorsed this and the goods were thereafter handed over to the state government; this, prima facie, amounts to customs fraud," Mr Kumar added.
The probe, which is underway, is looking into allegations of duty evasion and violations of the Foreign (Contribution) Regulations Act (FRCA).
Sources told NDTV that several government officials have already been questioned and their statements have been recorded. Anyone who is a Person of Interest or is linked to these cases will be questioned, sources said, adding that at this point no one had been named.
Kerala government sources told NDTV that the state had not issued any prior approval or signed any exemption certificate from August 2018 till now. The UAE consulate's consignment of Qurans was in May 2020. Customs will know more about this, the source said.
The state did, however, countersign the UAE consulate's application for The exemption for the consignment of dates in 2017, the source added, explaining that the request from the UAE consulate had stated the reason as "use for official purposes".
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has made references to these consignments in the past and maintained that neither the concerned minister nor the government had done anything wrong.
"The minister or the government did not ask for the consignments. It was the UAE consulate's consignments and they reached out to the state government... the Qurans were not smuggled in, they were cleared by Customs," Mr Vijayan had told the media.
The Chief Minister had said the consulate sought help from KT Jaleel regarding the Quran consignment since he was Minister for Minorities, Waqf and Hajj.