Customs arrests Kerala realty firm MD in dollar smuggling case

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Kochi, Feb 16 (PTI) Customs on Tuesday arrested an executive of a private construction firm on charges of abetting smuggling of foreign currencies received as 'a kickback' in connection with a Kerala government's project to provide housing for the poor.

Unitac Builders Managing Director D Santhosh Eapen was arrested after questioning by the investigating officials at the Customs (Preventive) Commissionerate here, where he had been summoned, sources in the agency said.

According to Customs, Eapen had allegedly given foreign currency as kickback to some employees in the UAE consulate in Thiruvananthapuram to get the construction contract for the LIFE Mission's housing project in Wadakkancherry in Thrissur district that was financially supported by UAE-based Red Crescent aid agency.

He was later granted bail by the Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate (Economic Offences) Court when Customs produced him following the arrest.

Customs, probing the dollar smuggling case which surfaced during the investigation into gold smuggling using diplomatic channels, alleged Eapen had abetted in illegal 'export' of foreign currency with his full knowledge.

Former UAE Consulate finance head and Egyptian national Khaled Mohammed Ali Shoukry had allegedly smuggled USD 1.9 lakh to Cairo via Muscat from Thiruvananthapuram airport in August, 2019, it has said.

This was revealed during interrogation of prime accused in the gold smuggling case Swapna Suresh and Sarith P S, former employees of the consulate.

Earlier, central agencies probing gold smuggling case, had alleged that a conspiracy was hatched much before the MoU between Red Crescent and the LIFE Mission, to award the work to Unitac and Sane Ventures, which are only name lenders, to siphon off the foreign contribution in the guise of kick backs to the officials at the UAE consulate.

The Life Mission project contemplates construction of housing units by utilising government funds, sponsorships, and funds of local self-government institutions.

In 2017, the Emirates Red Crescent, the volunteer humanitarian organisation, affiliated to the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, expressed willingness to provide about Rs 20 crore financial assistance for the construction of homes for the victims of the Kerala floods and also a health centre.

The customs had earlier arrested suspended IAS officer M Sivasankar in the dollar smuggling case. He had also been granted bail. PTI TGB VS VS