Kerala CM’s former secretary M Sivasankar in ED custody for 5 days
M Sivasankar, former principal secretary to Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, was arrested on Tuesday in a case related to the alleged kickbacks in the state government’s Life Mission project
A special court in Kochi on Wednesday remanded M Sivasankar, former principal secretary to Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, to five-day custody of the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in a case related to the alleged kickbacks in the state government’s Life Mission project.
Sivasankar, a senior Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer who retired last month, was arrested on Tuesday after three days’ grilling by the central agency.
He was in jail for 98 days in October 2020 in connection with charges related to the sensational gold smuggling case in which 30 kg of yellow metal was seized by the Customs from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) consulate in the state Capital, Thuruvananthapuram, in June 2020.
Though ED sought 10 days’ custody, the court dealing with the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) cases granted only five days. ED told the court that Sivasankar was not co-operating with the investigation and that he had refused to take food. The agency further said that his custodial interrogation was necessary. The court directed the central agency to give a break after every two hours and provide all medical help to the accused.
Once chief minister Vijayan’s most trusted official, Sivasankar’s arrest has prompted the opposition Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to seek an explanation from the CM but the government and ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPI(M) have distanced themselves from the former bureaucrat.
“Now it is the turn of big sharks. The CM owes an explanation,” said Congress state president and member of Parliament (MP), K Sudhakaran.
“The latest development will shut the mouth of those who often say central agencies were going soft on gold smuggling and related cases,” said minister of state for external affairs, V Muraleedharan.
Kanam Rajendran, the state secretary of the CPI(M)’s alliance partner, Communist Party of India (CPI), said Sivasankar’s arrest had nothing to do with the government or the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF).
Meanwhile, the main accused in the gold smuggling case, Swapna Suresh said in Bengaluru that more people will come under the radar of the central agencies soon. She reiterated her charges that the chief minister and his family members were aware of all activities going through the UAE consulate.
She said she shifted her base to Bengaluru a couple of months ago after the state agencies hounded her. “Grilling of CM’s private secretary P M Raveendran will reveal everything in the Life Mission case. I am ready to go to jail again but I will expose all who made me a scapegoat,” she said.
The alleged irregularities in the Life Mission project, a scheme to provide free houses for homeless, came to light when central agencies were probing the gold smuggling case. When lockers of Swapna Suresh were searched in October 2020 they got ₹one crore cash and 2 kg gold.
Later, she reportedly told agencies that the currency was the commission received for clinching a deal with the international aid agency ‘Red Crescent’, which funded the project for flood victims in Vadakancherry in Thrissur district. She alleged that Sivasankar had asked her to keep his commission money in her locker.
It also came to light that permission of the Union government was not sought for accepting foreign contribution for such a project. The anti-corruption unit of the CBI registered a case in October 2020 for violating the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA). But the state government insisted that it will not come under the purview of the FCRA and moved the court to quash the case but the court refused.
During investigation, it was found that ₹18.50 crore was collected from the Red Crescent through the UAE consulate in the state Capital and only ₹14.50 crore were spent for the project. The rest of the money, ₹4 crore, was reportedly divided by the government and consulate officials as their bribe. Swapna reportedly told agencies that Sivashankar asked her to keep his share, ₹one crore, in her locker.
The sensational gold smuggling incident came to light on July 5, 2020 after the customs department seized 30 kg gold from a consignment that came to the UAE consulate camouflaged as a diplomatic bag. Now a multi-agency probe is on and all arrested (total 30) are on bail.