April 2021
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Gold smuggling accused gave statements against Kerala Assembly Speaker: ED
Kochi: Two key accused in the gold smuggling case have claimed before the Enforcement Directorate that Kerala Assembly Speaker P Sreeramakrishnan had made investment in a college in Oman and handed over currency bundles meant for a UAE consulate official, according to their depositions submitted in the state high court by the central agency. The ED attached the statements of prime accused in the gold smuggling case Swapna Suresh, Sandeep Nair and Sarith P S containing details of the case and allegations against Sreeramakrishnan and others, including suspended IAS officer M Sivasankar, in its plea seeking to quash an FIR registered against its officials by the state police. The FIR has been registered for allegedly forcing Suresh to give statements against chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan.

Reacting to the claims of the accused submitted in the court days ahead of the April 6 assembly elections in the state, Sreeramakrishnan, in a statement to the media released in Thiruvananthapuram, dismissed them as "nonsense and factually wrong". Asserting that he was ready for any kind of probe which was fair, he alleged the central agencies have been acting as propagandists with political interests and releasing so called statements from time to time. Suresh and Sarith, former employees of the UAE consulate in Thiruvananthapuram, are the key accused in the case relating to the smuggling of 30 kg of gold worth Rs 14.82 crore in a diplomatic baggage and now under judicial custody since their arrest. They are also allegedly involved in the dollar case related to alleged smuggling of USD 1,90,000 (equivalent to Rs 1.30 crore) by a former UAE Consulate official to Muscat in Oman.

Suresh, in her deposition, claimed Sreeramakrishnan had once told her that he has investments in Middle East College, Oman, owned by an NRI, who is a native of Ponnani in Malappuram district. "....he (the Speaker) wanted to spread the wings across the Middle East and that I would be the ideal person to manage his projects in the Middle East," Suresh was quoted as saying in the statement. She further claimed Sreeramakrishnan wanted to start a branch of Middle East College in Sharjah and he had requested the Ruler of Sharjah to provide land for construction of buildings for it. Suresh also alleged that during the visit of the Ruler of Sharjah to Thiruvananthapuram, a meeting was arranged between him and Sreeramakrishnan at the request of the Speaker. She claimed Sreeramakrishnan, Sivasankar, former principal secretary to Kerala chief minister), the college owner and another person wanted her to relocate to Sharjah and head their business development wing in the Middle East.

Suresh said "as instructed" by Sivasankar, she visited Oman in April, 2018 to see the premises and to meet a director of the Middle East College in Oman to discuss the way forward. "At that time Sivasankar also came to Oman directly from France and he accompanied me during the meeting," she claimed. In his statement, Sarith alleged Sreeramakrishnan sent a ''gift'' of ten bundles of currency notes to a top official of the UAE consulate through him. He claimed Suresh, her husband and him visited a flat near the Thiruvananthapuram airport after Sreeramakrishnan called her over phone and asked her to come there. "When we were about to return from there he entrusted a bag which contains a bundle in it...He also directed us to hand over the bundle to the UAE consulate official and told us to keep the bag as his gift," the statement said. He further claimed he handed over the bundles of currencies to the UAE official at his residence and kept the empty bag at his (Sarith''s) house which was later seized by the Customs authorities.

In his statement, Sreeramakrishnan said what the media showing now in the name of ''statement'' of the accused was absolute nonsense and factually wrong. "The statement that it was decided to start an educational institution abroad and investments were made in it is completely baseless. Anyone can inquire about this", he said. Sreeramakrishnan, however, said it was a fact that the Ponnani native who runs educational institutions in Oman is an acquaintance. "It''s a fact that I have met many NRIs. Just because I have met many people, it is foolish to misinterpret that I have investment in their establishments", he said. The Speaker also rejected the allegations that he had met the Ruler of Sharjah alone either in Kerala or outside. "It is learnt that one of the accused, who has been in the custody of the investigating agencies for months, has already given eight statements.

"It is also necessary to investigate as to who inspired the new set of stories. I am ready for any kind of investigation. But it has to be a fair one. It is not acceptable to make fabricated and politically motivated moves during elections", the Speaker said. On Mar 5, the Customs had claimed in the high court that Suresh has made "shocking revelations" against Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, Sreeramakrishnan and some ministers with regard to dollar ''smuggling.''

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