Customs records Kerala Assembly Speaker's staff statement over dollar smuggling case

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(Eds: Recasts, adds details, CPI(M) reax) Kochi, Jan 8 (PTI) Customs, probing the dollar smuggling case, on Friday recorded the statement of Kerala Assembly Speaker P Sreeramakrishnan's assistant private secretary who appeared at the central agency office here in response to summons, official sources said.

The official, K Ayyappan, appeared before the probe officials at Customs (Preventive) Commissionerate at 9.30 pm and left the office at 7 pm, they said.

As the questioning of the assistant secretary had its echo in the state assembly where Congress-led opposition members demanded the resignation of the Speaker, the CPI(M) heading the ruling coalition attacked the central agencies, alleging they were working as a 'political weapon of the BJP'.

The Customs department on Thursday had served a notice to Ayyappan at his residential address in Thiruvananthapuram, directing him to appear before the investigation team here.

Customs sources said Ayyappan, responsible for charting out the Speaker's daily programmes and travel related matters, was summoned to cross examine the evidence it had gathered on alleged involvement of some 'powerful persons' in connection with the 'smuggling' of the U.S currency from Kerala to Oman.

The notice asking Ayyappan to appear for questioning was delivered at his residential address on Thursday after the Speaker maintained that his prior permission was required to interrogate a member of his personal staff.

The central agency had earlier issued summons to Ayyappan at his official address in connection with the probe into the case related to alleged smuggling of USD 1,90,000 (equivalent to Rs 1.30 crore) by a former finance head of the UAE Consulate in Thiruvananthapuram to Muscat in Oman.

The matter came to light during the course of the probe by various central agencies, including the Customs, into the smuggling of gold using diplomatic channel that was unearthed with the seizure of Rs 15 crore worth of the precious metal from a baggage of the UAE consulate at the Thiruvananthapuram airport on July 5.

The Speaker had come under criticism from the Opposition parties for inaugurating the shop of one of the accused in the gold smuggling case, Sandeep Nair, months ago.

On Friday, opposition Congress-led United Democratic Front members raised slogans against Sreeramakrishnan and demanded his resignation in the backdrop of Ayyappan being questioned by the Customs in the dollar smuggling case.

The CPI(M) state secretary A Vijayaraghavan, in a tweet, alleged the central agencies were assisting the opposition by establishing a parallel administration in the state.

He said the party would 'expose' the undemocratic and unconstitutional move by the BJP-led Centre against the Kerala government.

Sreeramakrishnan has said he did not think that the central investigating agencies would question him and he would end his political career if it was proved he had accepted even one rupee as bribe from anyone. PTI TGB VS VS