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Court denies bail to suspended IAS officer Sivasankar in ED case linked to gold smuggling
Kochi: Suspended IAS officer M Sivasankar was on Tuesday denied bail by a court here in an Enforcement Directorate (ED) case related to money laundering charges in the Kerala gold smuggling racket. The special court dealing with Prevention of Money Laundering Act case (PMLA) here rejected the plea moved by the former Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister, noting that the investigation was at a crucial stage. Undoubtedly, the investigating agency may require further time to collect all the materials, particularly, the alleged nexus of the petitioner with a crime, Judge Kauser Edappagath said in his order.

The court had on November 12 posted the plea to Tuesday for orders after hearing arguments of the prosecution and the defence in detail. The officer, arrested by the ED on October 28 in connection with the "money laundering" aspect in the gold smuggling case, is now lodged in a jail here after the court remanded him to judicial custody till November 26. In his order, the judge said going by materials on record and factual discussions and legal submissions made during the hearing, at this stage it was not possible for him to "record satisfaction that there are reasonable grounds for believing that the petitioner is not guilty of the offences alleged."

He also said since the threshold stipulation predicated in section 45(1) of PMLA (related to grant of bail) has not been overcome, the question of considering the efficacy of other points urged by the petitioner such as flight risk, tampering with evidence and influencing witnesses and that he was suffering from disc prolapse would be of "no avail". "For the reasons stated above, without expressing any opinion as to the merits of the case and also with regard to the claim of the ED and the defence, I am of the view that the petitioner cannot be released on bail at this stage", the Judge added in the order.

Earlier in the day, the ED filed an objection to the argument note submitted in the court by Sivasankar on Monday in which he alleged he was arraigned as an accused as he had refused to name a few political targets of the agency''s choice. In a point by point rebuttal, the ED said none of the points now raised by him were either subsequent developments or factually correct. "The allegation regarding extortion or pressure for extracting the names of certain political party leaders is made with malafide intention and is denied as false. Had he any such contentions or apprehension while he was in custody, he would have divulged it at the time of argument.

"This is only an afterthought intentionally made to make false allegations against the investigating agency", it said, adding such contentions may not be taken note of while considering the bail application. There were no new developments stated in the arguments note and the only intention was to attract media attention, the ED claimed. In the note, Sivasankar had described as "without any basis" and "trumped up" the ED''s claim that he accepted in his statement to the agency on October 15 that he had spoken to a senior customs officer and made request to clear cargo addressed to UAE consulate in Thiruvananthapuram as per wishes of Swapna Suresh, a key accused in the gold smuggling case.

Countering Sivasankar''s claim, the ED said its a fact that he did speak to Customs and airport authority in April 2018 and also in April 2019 just two months before two dummy diplomatic baggages were sent by Suresh and her associates to check the safety of the diplomatic channel. Asserting that Sivasankar spoke on the desperate requests made by Suresh, the ED maintained she has later said in her statement given to it on November 10 that Sivasankar did speak to Customs/ airport authorities 3-4 times on her request. "The question is why Mr Sivasankar should be interfering in the normal working of the Govt Department in such sensitive matters. There is clear involvement of petitioner in the offence of money laundering and as divulged by the prime accused the kickbacks were for petitioner", the ED alleged.

The central agency, probing the money trail in the case, had earlier alleged that Suresh in a statement claimed that Sivasankar and his team in the CMO were fully aware of the smuggling of the precious metal through diplomatic channel. The National Investigation Agency (NIA), the ED and the Customs are conducting separate investigations into the racket that was busted with the seizure of gold worth Rs 15 crore from a diplomatic baggage of the UAE Consulate at Thiruvananthapuram airport on July 5. The IAS officer was suspended after his links to Suresh surfaced.

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