Kerala high education minister K T Jaleel is being questioned on Thursday in connection with the sensational Kerala gold smuggling case, a week after the enforcement directorate (ED) grilled him amid mounting pressure to sack him from the state cabinet.
The minister reached the NIA office in Kochi at 6 am in a private car for questioning. Reports suggest that a high-level team of the ED and the directorate of revenue intelligence (DRI) are also camping in the port city.
Many opposition activists were injured in police action in the last five days during protests to oppose Jaleel’s continuance in the Pinarayi Vijayan cabinet after revelations of his alleged ties with one of the prime suspects in the case. The issue also figured in parliament on Wednesday.
Earlier the ED had questioned CPI(M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan’s son Bineesh Kodiyeri in connection with the case.
Trouble began for Jaleel after phone call records of Swapna Suresh– one of the main accused in the gold smuggling case– showed that Jaleel had called her several times. The minister defended the calls saying he contacted Suresh in connection with Ramadan kits offered by the UAE consulate since she was an employee at the consulate.
This clarification has led to further trouble for the minister, who is not supposed to accept any funds or freebies from any foreign entity or country without the consent of the ministry of external affairs, say experts, calling it a clear violation of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA).
During gold smuggling probe, the customs also found that a heavy consignment weighing more than 4,000 kg had arrived in 31 bags on March 4 and was taken to Malappuram. The minister claimed that the packets contained only religious books that he took his constituency for distribution. But the opposition has alleged that some consignments also carried gold and Jaleel was using holy books as a smokescreen to cover his illegal activities.
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The gold smuggling case came to light after the customs seized 30 kg gold from a consignment that came in the name of an official of the UAE consulate in Thiruvananthapuram on July 5. Later, the case was handed over to the NIA and at least four other central agencies are also involved in the multi-agency probe.
The NIA has arrested 30 persons in connection with the case so far. Two senior officials, CM’s principal secretary M Sivasankar and CM’s IT fellow Arun Balachandran, have been removed from office after they were linked to the accused.
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The ED had submitted a statement in a court in Kochi two days ago saying the Bengaluru drug haul case and the gold smuggling case were closely linked. Key accused in the drug case, Anoop Mohammad, had taken the name of Bineesh Kodiyeri during grilling and claimed he was his “business partner”.
But Kodiyeri said he helped him in setting up a hotel and was not aware of his drug dealings. There are also reports that the narcotics control bureau probing the Bengaluru haul may soon question Kodiyeri. The ED has reportedly found that the communist leader’s son owned properties worth crores of rupees and also owned many benami firms.
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