Gold case: Customs gets 5 day custody of Sivasankar

Court grants Customs 5 day custody of Sivasankar in gold smuggling case

Court considered its argument on his alleged role in smuggling through diplomatic channel

M Sivasankar, former Principal Secretary to Kerala Chief Minister. Credit: PTI Photo

A local court on Wednesday granted Customs five days custody of suspended IAS officer M Sivasankar, arrested by it in connection with the gold smuggling case.

The Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate (Economic Offences), Ernakulam, granted Customs (Preventive) Commissionerate five day custody, considering its argument on his alleged role in smuggling through diplomatic channel.

In a related development, the court granted Customs five day custody of two key accused, Swapna Suresh and P S Sarith, arrested by it for allegedly assisting a former employee of the UAE consulate in Thiruvananthapuram for smuggling USD 1,90,000 to Muscat from the capital city.

In its order, the court observed that forensic evidence collected after retrieving data from Sivasankar's mobile phone led the Investigating Officer to conclude he was involved in the smuggling operation by way of abetting the mastermind.

It noted that after retrieving deleted Whatsapp chats and other history, his previous statements were cross-checked and the IO concluded that Swapna Suresh purposefully gave the statement to exonerate Sivasankar for reasons known to her. "In this context,the Investigating Officer has justifiable reason to arraign Sivasankar as accused" the court said.

It observed that the alleged offence was serious in nature since the smuggling of huge quantities of gold through diplomatic channel was unprecedented. "The intensive probe is required to find out all stakeholders of the deal. Admittedly,at the time of alleged commission of offence,M Sivasankar was admittedly holding the post of Principal Secretary", the court said and observed that the mode of abetment and quid pro quo of smuggle-deal has to be probed.

It observed that an effective interrogation on all aspects relating to his previous statements and that of other accused in the backdrop of the retrieved mobile data was extremely essential for the successful progress of future investigation.

The court pulled up Customs for the absence of fundamental elements from the application,seeking his custody. It noted that the personal or professional details of the accused other than his residential address were not disclosed in the application for remand and affidavit.

The court said it is not discernible from the primary records why accomplices like Swapna Suresh and Sarith chose Sivasankar for using his influence to clear the smuggled gold. "Nothing is stated in the affidavit to the effect that under what capacity Sivasankar could successfully abet the commission of smuggling through diplomatic channel," it said.

In its remand report filed on Tuesday, Customs had claimed that Swapna Suresh has revealed that Sivasankar was in the know and has also abetted the smuggling activities.

The Customs said Suresh made the claim during her interrogation at the Attakkulangara Vanitha jail in Thiruvananthapuram on November 18. Sivasankar was formally arrested by the customs on Tuesday at a jail where he is currently lodged.

Earlier, a special court for PMLA cases had granted the Customs permission to arrest Sivasankar. He was sent to judicial custody last week following his custodial interrogation by the Enforcement Directorate probing the money trail in the gold smuggling case.

Granting Customs five day custody of Suresh and Sarith in the dollar smuggling case, the court said it is essential to extend the probe to another country with which India has diplomatic relationship. It noted that the source of Indian currency, the modus- operandi of its accumulation and its conversion to US Dollars are under probe for the successful progress of investigation.

"It is highly essential to find out the other key person involved in the deal", the court said in the order. Earlier, the Customs (Preventive) Commissionerate, which is probing the Kerala gold smuggling case, claimed that ex- finance head of UAE consulate, Thiruvananthapuram, Khaled Mohamed Ali Shoukri, had taken out USD 1,90,000 (equivalent to Rs 1.30 crore) concealed in his handbag.

Shoukri, an Egyptian national, was accompanied by Suresh and Sarith till Oman during his travel from Thiruvananthapuram international airport by Oman Airways on August 7, 2019.

The Customs said the issue came to light during the course of investigation in the case of seizure of 30 kg gold through Air Cargo Complex, Thiruvananthapuram on July 5.

Suresh,in her voluntary statement given under Section 108 of the Customs Act, 1962, stated and admitted she and Sarith had accompanied Shoukri from Thiruvananthapuram to Muscat on August 7, 2019, the agency said in its report.