KOCHI: The Kerala High Court on Thursday directed the Enforcement Directorate (ED) not to arrest M Sivasankar, former Principal Secretary to Chief Minister of Kerala, till October 23 in the case registered under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) in connection with the gold smuggling case.
When the anticipatory bail plea came up for hearing, Senior Advocate P Vijayabhanu, the counsel for Sivasankar, submitted that the ED had questioned him on three occasions totaling nearly 30 hours. The ED has sent notice directing him to produce a passport size photo and a copy of the Aadhar card on October 14 in person or through an authorised person.
Following the notice, it was handed over through an authorised person. However, the ED again issued a notice stating that the non-appearance as per notice will be considered as non-cooperation to the investigation.
The agency unnecessarily harassing the petitioner, the counsel said adding that Sivasankar is willing to cooperate with the investigation and will appear before the ED on Thursday. He is not going to flee from the clutches of law, hence requested protection from arrest, the counsel submitted.
Appearing for Enforcement Directorate, additional solicitor general SV Raju submitted that Sivasankar has not been implicated in the case till date. The apprehension of arrest is ill-founded. Till date, the agency has not arrested him.
This is a serious case involving the smuggling of gold worth a huge amount and the involvement of influential people cannot be ruled out, he said. Though the court initially posted the case to November 3rd and issued a directive not to arrest until then, the next date of hearing was advanced to October 23 after the ASG submitted that an earlier hearing should be held if such a directive is being issued by the court.
The court also directed to file a detailed counter affidavit in the case. In the bail petition, Sivasankar stated that he feared that the investigating agency would be forced to arrest him to avoid criticism from the media.
The ED filed a report n connection with the smuggling case before a special court under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act. Though the petitioner was questioned him for more than 90 hours by different agencies, no incriminating materials could be gathered by them to implicate him in the case as was evident from the fact that he had not been arraigned as an accused in the final report already filed.
Sivasankar stated that the WhatsApp chat between him and his chartered accountant are being 'needlessly annexed to create a false impression' to make him an accused by creating an impression that he has been involved in the activities committed by the prime accused.
In fact, he had conceded the fact of his acquaintance with Swapna Suresh, prime accused in the smuggling case, while she was working as secretary to UAE Consulate General. The petitioner was holding a key post in the government and he has occasion to contact the Consulate General in connection with his duties.
They have met on various occasions professionally and coordinated activities during the 2018-19 Kerala flood for evacuating stranded foreign nationals in Kerala. The petitioner came to know about the fact that Swapna and her friends were involved in the gold smuggling case and that they used to bring gold to India by misusing the office of Consulate General only after the consignment was seized by the customs.
The specific case of the prosecution is that the smuggling activities started in November 2019. However, Whatsapp messages between petitioner and his Chartered Accountant that had happened well before this date were needlessly annexed to create a false impression that the petitioner had got some involvement in the activities.
Details of these Whatsapp communications were unrelated to the alleged crime, and mentioning them without specifying dates are misleading. He also says the money held by Swapna Suresh, which was provided in the locker was the 'tip received from Ruler of Sharjah'.
On her request to account for this money, he introduced the Chartered Accountant to Swapna. He submitted that he was not aware of any other money transaction of the accused or the Chartered Accountant. The court will consider the bail plea on October 23.