Gold smuggling case in Kerala turns political
With the suspects in the case discovered to have ties to the chief minister’s office, opposition parties have been protesting and demanding accountability.
Protests erupted in several parts of Kerala with opposition organisations calling for the resignation of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan over the recent case of smuggled gold apprehended at the Thiruvananthapuram airport. Protests were held in districts like Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Kottayam, Malappuram, Kozhikode, Kannur and Wayanad by several groups like Youth League, Youth Congress and Yuva Morcha. On many instances, protests turned violent. In Kozhikode, people were hurt when police resorted to lathi-charge and in Kannur police lobbed teargas shells at those protesting outside CM Vijayan’s ancestral home.
Over 30 kgs of gold were seized by the customs department in a diplomatic parcel meant for the United Arab Emirates Consulate in Thiruvananthapuram. The courier who had come to pick up the parcel was arrested. He brought to light the involvement of a former contract worker at the consulate who allegedly had close ties to the CM’s principal secretary. The IAS official has been transferred but the damage is done.
Ministry of Home Affairs has permitted a probe by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in Kerala gold smuggling scandal case.— Prashant Patel Umrao (@ippatel) July 9, 2020
Several top CPM leaders, including CM Vijayan, Speaker P Sreeramakrishnan and others are facing heat over their involvement in gold smuggling case.
While the CM’s coalition partners have rallied around him, there is a worry that the case would have a detrimental effect on the state elections, scheduled for 10 months from now. Party insiders say that the CM has made them vulnerable by trying to protect the accused IAS official.
Three persons have been arrested so far and at the direction of the Ministry of Home Affairs, the case has been handed over to the National Investigation Agency which will be probing the case for terror links. Every year tonnes of gold is smuggled into Kerala, evading import duties and other taxes. In 2019-20, 550 kg gold has been seized, a record amount, pointing at potentially large shipments missing the radar of customs officials. But this is the first time that the NIA has been roped in investigate whether proceeds from the operation were being funnelled into activities that could harm national security.