KOCHI: As the probe into the attempt to smuggle gold through the Thiruvananthapuram airport is progressing, the customs department has learnt that accused Sarith Kumar and suspect Swapna Suresh have used their close connection with diplomats as a cover to smuggle large quantities of gold.
Sources in the customs said the gold smuggling activities through the diplomatic channel started after Sarith and Swapna quit their jobs at the UAE Consulate.Sarith had received the baggage for Charge d’Affaires Rashid Khamis Alshemeilly on seven occasions in the past six months after they resigned from the consulate.
“On all these occasions, the payment for the parcel was made by Sarith. Contrary to the procedure of using consulate vehicles for receiving diplomatic baggage, Sarith went to the airport in his private car. From the airport, he went to Peroorkada. It is quite clear that the influence of top officials of the UAE Consulate was used for the smuggling activities.
“The links of diplomats with Swapna and Sarith are under probe. We are also collecting CCTV footage from the airport,” a source said.
Alshemeilli had told the customs after 30kg of gold was seized that he used Sarith for odd jobs. This is stated in the Sarith’s remand report filed by the Customs at the Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate Court. He had denied that the consignment was addressed to him.
“How can a diplomat appoint a person not working at the consulate to receive his diplomatic baggage? We have asked the Union Ministry of External Affairs for getting permission from the UAE Embassy to provide access to diplomats, especially Alshemeilli,” the source said.However, a probe into the involvement of the UAE Consulate has several limitations.
“The investigation can only collect facts from the diplomats. If their active involvement is found, we can recommend the Ministry of External Affairs to evoke the persona non grata provision against the diplomat by which he/she will be asked to leave the country. No criminal probe against the diplomat can be carried out,” he said.
Meanwhile, the customs has received more inputs about the operations of the group in Kerala. According to these, another suspect, Sandeep, who has absconded, had played a crucial role in the activities. Sandeep was also involved in a smuggling attempt case at Thiruvananthapuram airport in 2014 when 2kg of gold was seized.
“It was Swapna who facilitated the transportation of the gold. Sarith, using his connection with the diplomats, used to receive the baggage from the airport. The smuggled gold was later handed over to Sandeep. It was he who supplied the gold to buyers. Tracing Sandeep is crucial to get information about the entire chain, including the persons who had bought the illegal gold,” another source said.
The Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate Court on Thursday granted the customs Sarith’s custody till 5pm on June 15. The customs told the court that it has got call details record of Sarith’s mobile phone and that the people who are in his contact circle are being traced.
At the same time, the agency will seek the assistance of cyber experts to retrieve WhatsApp messages of Sarith as he had formatted the phone before appearing before the customs for interrogation.Sarith has filed a bail petition which will be considered by the court on Monday.