KOCHI: Kerala Higher Education Minister K T Jaleel was questioned by India's premier anti-terror agency National Investigation Agency (NIA) for the entire day on Thursday even as opposition parties led by the Congress undertook statewide protests that led to violence and police lathi-charge in many parts.
The minister who entered the NIA office in Kochi at 5:55 am came out only at 4.57 pm, spending a marathon 11 hours inside the agency's building.
Jaleel was quizzed by the NIA to get details about his links with Swapna Suresh, the prime accused in the Kerala gold smuggling scandal. After Swapna's arrest in July, mobile call details retrieved by the NIA revealed that she had contacted Jaleel on several occasions. However, the minister claimed he had contacted her as per the direction of the Consul General of the UAE in Thiruvananthapuram.
Police remove Youth Congress workers who reached the NIA office in Kochi, demanding the resignation of Kerala Higher Education Minister #KTJaleel, who is being questioned in connection with #KeralaGoldSmugglingCase.— The New Indian Express (@NewIndianXpress) September 17, 2020
Express video | @sanesh_TNIE.@xpresskerala @shibasahu2012 pic.twitter.com/VCyX868ReU
The NIA's summoning of Jaleel on Thursday comes a week after he was questioned by another central agency, the Enforcement Directorate (ED), on two days -- last Thursday and Friday -- for any violation of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 (PMLA).
To prepare for the questioning, the NIA officers had held a meeting with the ED officers on Wednesday at the latter's office here to study the statement given by the minister.
Though the NIA had asked him to appear at 9 am on Thursday, the minister arrived three hours early, a move clearly aimed to escape the media glare. The minister reached Kochi by road from the state capital Thiruvananthapuram, from where he started late last night. He halted at the PWD Rest House in Kalamassery in Kochi early this morning to freshen up, before driving to the NIA office.
The minister reached the NIA office in a white Toyota Ethios, which belonged to CPM leader and former MLA A M Yousuf. Wearing his usual attire in public -- a white mundu and shirt and holding a black handbag -- the minister was seen disappearing into the NIA office at Girinagar in the city.
But as the news leaked, protests erupted across the state, with opposition party activists calling for Jaleel's resignation. Scores of Youth Congress and Yuva Morch workers -- the youth wing of the Congress and the BJP -- were injured in the police lathi-charge in several parts of the state.
Sources said the NIA has collected details about copies of the Quran Jaleel received from the UAE consulate which were transported in a government vehicle to various places in Kerala. Jaleel claimed that he had received around 300 copies of the Quran while over 7,500 copies are estimated to have been imported by the UAE consulate.
With protesters choosing to reach the NIA office demanding the minister's resignation, police barricaded the road leading to the anti-terror agency's office in the morning. Over 50 police officials were also deployed to prevent protesters reaching the NIA office. Several activists of the Youth Congress were also arrested and removed from the place.