Kerala gold smuggling: ED opposes M Sivasankar’s anticipatory bail plea in HC

The anticipatory bail plea of suspended IAS officer M Sivasankar was opposed in the High Court on Wednesday by the Enforcement Directorate (ED), probing the money trail in the gold smuggling case. The ED, while opposing the bail plea, told the court that Sivasankar appears to be connected with the serious economic offence allegedly committed by prime accused in the case, Swapna Suresh.

The court had earlier on October 15 restrained the Enforcement Directorate from arresting Sivasankar, former principal secretary to the Chief Minister, till October 23.

In its submission, the ED alleged that the officer was "very close" to Suresh, a former UAE consulate employee, and was sending WhatsApp messages to her throughout the day.

According to the ED, the chats show that Swapna discussed everything with him and as such, it is highly unlikely that he was not aware of the money she was making through gold smuggling and also by way of commission kickbacks in the consulate contracts.

It is submitted that the present aspects are the subject matter of investigation and several facts are coming to light, the agency said in its submission.

Referring to the seizure of huge amounts of money from bank lockers maintained by Swapna by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), the ED alleged that Sivasankar had facilitated opening of the bank lockers by Swapna jointly with his chartered accountant P Venugopal in SBI, Thiruvananthapuram branch.

Submitting that all the money belonging to Swapna represents Proceeds of Crime (PoC) as defined under Section 2(1)(u) of Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), 2002, the ED alleged that PoC was generated by Swapna and therefore requires investigation into the serious economic offence in which Sivasankar appears to be connected.

This is a case where custodial interrogation may be required at an appropriate stage depending upon the investigations made, the ED said.

In his plea seeking anticipatory bail, Sivasankar has said that as a responsible government servant, he had extended maximum cooperation in the investigation of the offence.

He expressed fears that the media's "false propaganda" and frivolous news items" and constant demand for his arrest for creating news value has created a situation where the investigating agencies are forced to "save their skin" from allegations by arresting him, thereby playing to the fourth estate and avoiding criticism.

Sivasankar was earlier interrogated by the NIA and the Customs (Preventive) Commissionerate probing separate cases related to the gold smuggling using diplomatic channels at the international airport in Thiruvananthapuram.

The NIA on Wednesday told the court that the agency is yet to identify the objective behind the smuggling operation. The NIA has also opposed bail pleas of Hamsath Abdul Salam and Samju TM, reported Times of India (ToI). Assistant Solicitor General (ASG) P Vijayakumar representing the NIA said that critical electronic data is being accessed to support the case by C-DAC. So far C-DAC has accessed 22 out of the 99 digital gadgets seized as part of the investigation.

(With inputs from PTI)