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Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Gold smuggling busted in Trivandrum .. .. and the political link !!

How often do you buy Gold ?  - do you know the Gold rates of date ? ~ if you were irritated and were about to respond ‘ who cares to know of Gold during testing Covid times’ – there is something to be read.  Today it was Rs.4626 for 1 gm of Gold and Rs.37008/- for 8 grams in Chennai market [24 ct Gold cost Rs.4858/- per gramme]

Tinseldom is obsessed with Gold biscuits or rather Gold bars – villains would steal biscuits, put them in a suitcase and run like wind. Hero would snatch and run faster !   Gold is a dense metal, and the denser the metal, it would weigh heavily,  the harder it would be to  carry, leave alone carrying it !

Way back in 1973 Bombay High Court delivered on a case between JS Parkar Vs VB Palekar & Ors. The petitioner (assessee) was carrying on business of transporting iced fishes, mangoes and other goods by sea from Konkan ports to Bombay. He was the owner of a launch "Lakshmi". On 24th Apr 1961, the Central Excise authorities seized 4,999 biscuits of gold weighing 10 tolas each from the said vessel. The Collector of Central Excise investigated the case and ultimately confiscated the gold. The assessee and some others were then tried before the Special Judicial and Additional Chief Presidency Magistrate, Bombay, for offences under section 120B of the Indian Penal Code and section 167(81) of the Sea Customs Act, 1878, and section 23 of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act of 1947. At the conclusion of the trial the assessee and some other accused were convicted by the learned Magistrate for these offences on July 22, 1963. The said convictions and sentences were confirmed by this High Court on August 11, 1964.

Gold is a material available in so many shops – you pay and buy them – for values above Rs.50000/- the Jewellers would insist on ID proof including PAN.  People returning from Foreign especially Middle East would carry gold (in ornaments and sometimes biscuits / coins).  The Govt rules prescribes that male passengers returning after residing outside can bring Gold jewellery upto 20 gms but not costing more than Rs.50000/- Female passengers can carry 40 gms of gold jewelry costing not more than Rs. 1 lakh.  Anything in excess will have to declared to the Customs Authorities upon landing in India and would attract import duty of 36% - thus increasing the cost of gold so gotten.

Rangoon is a 2017 film written and directed by Rajkumar Periasamy and produced by AR Murugadoss. The film features Gautham Karthik and Sana Makbul in the lead roles.  Venkat indulges in gold smuggling to clear Siya's debts with the profits earned. In the same motive, he, along his friends travels to Myanmar on a smuggling deal in an illegal route via road crossing the borders.  After four years, Venkat gets released from jail and starts his own small jewelry shop in the name of his father. Now, Venkat faces life with hope and faith, as a reformed man of mid-20s ! 

It is always stated that lot of the gold being smuggled into Indian comes from Dubai or other Asian countries. It is yellow gold meaning 24 Ct reportedly pure gold.  In a massive operation, the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) recently seized  11.2 kilograms of gold being smuggled into Kerala from Kannur International Airport.   During the raids conducted later in Kozhikkode district as per the information received from the arrested smugglers, the officials also recovered 3.2 kilograms of gold and Rs 17.5 lakh in cash. This is one of the largest haul of the precious yellow metal in the state and the seized gold is worth around Rs 5 core, official sources revealed.  Media reports state that the  State is  notorious for highest cases of gold smuggling. As per official statistics, the number of cases for gold smuggling went up from 242 in 2017-18 to 1,102, an increase of 455%.  

Kerala, specifically the northern region, has been a paradise for gold smugglers and hawala transactions since decades which has contributed much to the country’s black money.  Criminals and dishonest people are involved in smuggling and Govt should punish these people – there must be harsh punishments, one tends to think – now read on further.

On July 5, Customs officials seized 30 kg of gold worth Rs.15 crore at the Thiruvananthapuram Airport from a diplomatic cargo addressed to a person in the UAE Consulate. Sarith Kumar, who worked at the UAE Consulate was arrested in this regard. Reportedly, he told the Customs about the role of Swapna Suresh, an ex-Consulate employee now working as the manager of the Kerala State Information Technology Infrastructure Limited.

The case took a political turn after photos with Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan surfaced. It has been alleged that Swapna has links with the CM and has been seen with him at parties when she was working at the UAE Consulate. Following the backlash over her appointment, she was sacked by the state government. Moreover, Principal Secretary to CM, M Sivasankar, has been replaced after his role in hiring Suresh came under the scanner.

Meanwhile, Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala lashed out at the Pinarayi Vijayan-led government over the gold smuggling controversy. He claimed that the IT Secretary M Sivasankar had direct involvement in this racket. Thereafter, the senior Congress leader indicated that the responsibility lies with the CM. The UAE Ambassador to India on Tuesday affirmed that his country would fully cooperate with the Indian Customs authorities to investigate the matter. Moreover, he called for strict legal action against those involved in the gold smuggling racket.

A day after a state IT department employee emerged as a key figure in the gold smuggling racket operating through the diplomatic cargo channel, the Kerala government removed senior IAS official M Sivasankar as the principal secretary of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan after his role in hiring the employee came under the scanner. He has been replaced by IAS officer Mir Muhammad Ali.

The alleged involvement of Swapna Suresh, who had worked as manager with the Kerala State Information Technology Infrastructure Limited (KSITL), has deeply embarrassed the government, with the Opposition parties claiming that the CM’s Office (CMO) has links to the racket. Dismissing the allegations, Vijayan had said Swapna had been appointed without his knowledge. “I don’t know under which circumstances she was appointed. It was not with my consent,’’ he said.

 According to the Customs, Sarith, who is no longer associated with the consulate, took advantage of the immunity and privileges enjoyed by diplomatic missions. Sources said the smuggling attempt was foiled, and the consignment seized, on the basis of a specific tip-off indicating gold concealed in the cargo. Officials said Sarith had come to the airport to collect the cargo, and was apprehended. The UAE Consulate General office has disowned the cargo and has “promised to cooperate with the investigation”, Customs Commissioner Sumith Kumar said. Kumar said the gold was found concealed in the form of small cylinders in the cargo, comprising plumbing items, water taps and door locks. “Diplomatic cargo has protection, and normal checking cannot be done (on them), but we took special sanction from the government to examine the cargo,” he said. Kumar said the Customs suspects a well-organised syndicate is behind the smuggling.

“The Consulate General office has told us that the mission was not involved and they have nothing to do with the consignment. However, we will look into whether anyone from the mission was involved in the racket,” he said. Kumar said they are also looking into the role of Swapna. “Swapna is also involved in this case. We hope she will appear before the Customs to give her statement. If she fails to do so, we would explore legal options,’’ he said.

Congress leader of opposition Ramesh Chennithala, demanding a CBI probe into the case, said, “The chief minister has removed his secretary because he fears the case will reach him too…we have been ministers too. If our secretary or private secretary takes any decision, we are responsible too. When the chief minister’s secretary is misusing his official position by attempting to protect an accused in a gold smuggling racket, there’s no doubt that the responsibility of the same lies with the chief minister too.” BJP state president K Surendran termed the gold smuggling case a repetition of the solar scandal involving prime accused Saritha Nair that plagued the previous Congress-led UDF government.

The chief minister of Kerala said  he was not aware of how Swapna was appointed in the IT department. In the initial days of the solar scandal, former CM Oommen Chandy had also said he didn’t know Saritha Nair,” said Surendran. “CM Pinarayi Vijayan has known Swapna Suresh from the beginning of 2017. It’s a big lie if he says he doesn’t know her,” the BJP leader alleged.

Will there be debates in local channels on this sordid episode and the involvement of Kerala Govt ?

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

News source :  Indian Express, NDTV, India Today, Money Control, OP India, Times Now, Malayala Manorama and other online media.

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