PALAKKAD: Kerala is on a political boil after Swapna Suresh, one of the accused in the sensational gold smuggling case of 2016, through diplomatic channel, alleged that Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and his family members have links to the case.
In a statement before a magistrate in Ernakulam under Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), on June 6, Swapna linked Vijayan, his family members, former minister KT Jaleel
and IAS officers to the case. The revelations triggered widespread anti-government protests in the state.
A day later, Swapna was booked by the Cantonment police in Thiruvananthapuram on charges of rioting and criminal conspiracy. Kerala Janapaksham leader and former MLA P C George was also arraigned as the second accused in the FIR registered based on the complaint of Tavanur MLA K T Jaleel, who was among those named by Swapna.
Jaleel filed the complaint alleging that Swapna entered into a criminal conspiracy with George to defame him, the CM and his family. The former minister, whom Swapna had accused of having a role in gold smuggling, also said she made derogatory statements and ran a fake campaign to defame him and disrupt peace and stability in the state.
The cases were registered under Sections 120B (criminal conspiracy) and 153 (wantonly giving provocation with an intent to cause riot) of the IPC on the basis of the legal opinion from the deputy director of prosecution. The police headquarters in a communique said a special team led by a senior officer will handle the probe. Both charges are bailable. Jaleel’s complaint came close on the heels of CPM leaders’ response that there were conspiracies to malign the CM and the government.
On June 7, PS Sarith, the first accused in diplomatic channel gold smuggling case, was forcefully taken away by four unknown persons from his flat at Piruvusala near Chandranagar at around 9.45 am.
The incident happened barely 15 minutes after the key accused in the case Swapna Suresh made some revelations to the media. Later it was revealed that the vililance authorities had taken Sarith into custody. He was released at 2.40 pm after three-and-a-half hours of interrogation.
At 11.15 am, Swapna Suresh who reached the office of Highrange Rural Development Society (HRDS) in Chandranagar reacted angrily to the media, alleging that Sarith was kidnapped from the flat by a four-member gang. When media persons pointed out that it was Vigilance who had taken Sarith into custody she objected to the way in which he was whisked away by people who were in civil dress.
Swapna said principal secretary M Sivashankar was the fifth accused in the Life Mission case, while she was the sixth accused. “Sarith is only the seventh accused in the case. The Vigilance should have taken Sivasankar and me into custody before taking Sarith into custody. The police did not serve any notice and Sarith was not even allowed to take his mobile phone,” she said.
“This is a dirty game. Politics is a dirty game. Will the vigilance come and take away Sivashankar in the same manner,” asked Swapna.
Though the incident occurred under the limits of Palakkkad south police station, the cops at the local station had no information about the incident. They launched an investigation after Swapna Suresh complained that Sarith was kidnapped by four persons from the flat. The police checked the CCTV footage from the flat at 11.45 am to identify the persons who took away Sarith.
In the CCTV footage Sarith was found boarding the car along with the four persons without any resistance. The security personnel at the flat also confirmed that four persons had arrived and Sarith had left with them.
Meanwhile, the police revealed that it was the Palakkad unit of the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau which had taken away Sarith. The vigilance officers said they had gone to the flat to serve a notice to Sarith. As he refused to accept they had taken him to the office. The notice was served asking him to appear before the Vigilance department in Thiruvananthapuram for interrogation in the Life Mission case on June 16.
On June 9, Leader of Opposition VD Satheesan said the Congress did not trust either Central or state agencies investigating the revelations made by Swapna Suresh. “A High Court monitored probe is needed to bring out the truth,” he said in an exclusive chat with TNIE as part of the Express Dialogues series in Kochi.
Satheesan said Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan himself had invited Central agencies to probe the case. “However, the agencies stopped the probe when it reached the CMO. After Swapna gave a confession statement under Section 108 of the Customs Act, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) stopped the investigation,” he said. Satheesan also termed the allegations by Swapna that a bag of currency was sent to Dubai during the CM’s visit in 2016 as ‘serious’.
Meanwhile, Swapna Suresh came out with another allegation saying that Shaj Kiran, an acquaintance who met her in Palakkad claiming to be a messenger of Pinarayi Vijayan, had warned of police harassment if she did not withdraw her statement given in court under Section 164 of CrPC.
She said she feared torture if she were to be arrested. “The vigilance had behaved in a cinematic and high-handed style while picking up Sarith from his flat and it is only natural to fear the consequences,” Swapna said after the High Court rejected the anticipatory bail plea moved by PS Sarith and herself. She said, in her section 164 statement, she neither intended to defame anyone nor has she indulged in any conspiracy.
She said Kiran had asked her to withdraw her court statement and warned her two days ago that Sarith would be taken into custody. “And that is what happened. It was Shaj Kiran who informed me that vigilance officials had picked up Sarith from the flat. He also said that Sarith will be released within an hour,” she said.
Swapna admitted that Kiran was one of her good friends and confidants, a relationship that continued till Wednesday morning. “Kiran acted as a mediator. He repeatedly asked me to withdraw the 164 statement given to the court. He pressured me and tortured me psychologically from Wednesday afternoon to evening, and again on Thursday morning. Kiran said that one Nikesh Kumar would meet me and I should give my mobile phone to him. He said Nikesh Kumar was the ‘tongue and voice’ of the chief minister. Shaj wanted me to discuss the matter with him and withdraw the statement,” Swapna said.
During the course of the conversation between Swapna Suresh and Shaj Kiran, the ADGPs of law and order and vigilance were constantly in touch, she said. “They made 56 WhatsApp calls to Kiran’s phone and sought updates. But I don’t know any of the police officers personally,” she said.Swapna said she had acquainted Shaj Kiran through M Sivasankar, the former principal secretary in the chief minister’s office. Swapna said the voice clip of the conversation with Shaj Kiran is with the lawyer and it will be released on Friday, and everyone will be convinced of the negotiations that took place.
Shaj Kiran, who was a journalist with Malayalam news channels till 2016 and is now a real estate agent, has refuted Swapna Suresh’s allegation that he threatened her after she gave a confidential statement saying that Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and his family were involved in the gold smuggling case. Shaj told reporters in Kochi on Thursday that Swapna is his close friend.
Swapna had played an audio of the conversation between her and Shaj before the media.
“Shaj asked me whether I knew who I was playing with? He told me that (CM Pinarayi) will never be able to bear it if you drag his daughter’s name into the matter,” she told media persons who had gathered at the premises of HRDS, her office. Swapna alleged that Kiran persuaded her to withdraw her secret statement from the court. “Once you listen to the audio clip, you can decide for yourself,” Swapna said before the one-hour-long audio was played out.
Most of the conversation in the audio revolved around Kiran’s tall claims about his proximity to political leaders and Swapna’s reactions to them. In the voice clip, Kiran was heard telling her, quoting some online media, that the funds of the CM and CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan were being transferred to the US through the channel of the Believers church.
‘Shaj & I had no differences until a couple of days ago’
Once the audio was released, Swapna said the “No. 1’’ referred to by Shaj in the conversation was Chief Minister Pinarayi. But when asked what the evidence of the connection between Shaj and the CM was, Swapna said it was for the media to investigate and that she did not have any evidence to prove it.
Swapna insisted that she released the voice clip to show that she did not have anything to hide and was not part of any conspiracy.
Reacting angrily to the reported statement of Shaj that he had some obscene videos of her, Swapna said it was one of the easiest ways to attack a woman. However, Swapna admitted that it was she who called Shaj after Sarith went missing on June 8. “We had no personal differences until a couple of days ago. However, he had been torturing me mentally since afternoon (of June 8), forcing me to withdraw the 164 statement,” Swapna said.
Shaj, 36, worked as a journalist with various Malayalam TV news channels before he quit the profession in 2016. His last stint as a journalist was with Congress-owned Jai Hind TV. After ending his journalism career and soon after his second marriage, he forayed into various businesses.
As per the details available, there are five companies registered under his directorship. All these companies are based in Kochi, which were registered between March and May 2019. The companies are Syamambharam Enterprises India Private Limited, Twenty K Agritech Private Limited, Springever Enterprises Private Limited, Primegro Agritech Private Limited and Famigo Agritec Private Limited.
As per the Registrar of Companies records, these companies have been in the business of “wholesale and commission trades, except of motor vehicles and motorcycles”. People close to Shaj said he mainly worked as a real estate agent. After Covid hit the real estate sector badly, his business went into a downward spiral. He is active on Facebook and frequently posts photographs of his cars.
Swapna also admitted that she had agreed to be the surrogate mother after realising the plight of Shaj’s wife. “I had agreed to be a surrogate mother, with the knowledge of his family members, if my health permitted. I know the pain of mothers who cannot bear a child and I offered my help,” Swapna said.
Shaj had earlier said he had requested Swapna to be the surrogate mother of his child as he wanted a girl child who looked like her. “We had also decided to name her Vaiga,’’ he said.
Shaj Kiran who is now hogging headlines for allegedly threatening Swapna Suresh, key accused in the 2020 gold smuggling case, is a former journalist based in Kochi. His father and mother are from Kottarakkara. The family had lived in Tiruvalla during his childhood.
Vigilance chief sacked
ADGP MR Ajith Kumar was removed from the post of vigilance chief on Friday following the CM’s order. The move came after it was found that Kumar had been in touch with Shaj Kiran who allegedly tried to compel Swapna Suresh to withdraw her charges against the CM.