In his book, former principal secretary Sivasankar insists on his innocence and raises allegations against Swapna Suresh, the main defendant in the gold smuggling case.
A former principal secretary to the Kerala chief minister and an accused in the Kerala gold smuggling case, Mr Sivasankar has published a new book, Aswathathmavu Verum Oru Aana (Ashwathama is but an elephant), in which he insists that he is innocent of the charges against him. In the book, the senior IAS officer also makes some allegations against co-defendant Swapna Suresh, which sparked a war of words in the media between the two. Swapna is the main defendant in the case, where 30.245 kilograms of gold were smuggled from the United Arab Emirates to Kerala in 2020. Sivasankar and Swapna are currently out on bail in this case. Sivasankar’s book was released on Friday, February 4, and Swapna addressed the media on the evening of February 4, refuting the allegations made against her in the book.
Swapna Suresh is a former employee of the UAE consulate in Kerala, and when the gold smuggling case came out, it was alleged that she used her proximity to smuggle gold from the UAE to India. Swapna, however, denied the allegations. Swapna’s closeness to IAS officer Sivasankar lured him into the matter, and later it was alleged that Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan also knew about it as Sivasankar was his principal secretary. However, Swapna, Sivasankar and two other defendants in the Sarith and Sandeep Nair case have denied Pinarayi Vijayan’s involvement.
One of the allegations against Swapna and Suresh relates to irregularities in a LIFE Mission project in Wadakkanchery. LIFE Mission is a vast housing project of the Government of Kerala aimed at providing homes to landless people. In Wadakkanchery, a UAE-based NGO, the Red Crescent, had offered to sponsor a housing project for flood-affected people as part of the LIFE mission. The construction was to be carried out by a private company called Unitac builders. Sivasankar was the officer accused of brokering the deal for Unitac with the consul general of the UAE, and was booked by the Kerala Vigilance and Anti Corruption Bureau for allegedly receiving bribes from Unitac for the contract.
The LIFE mission bribe allegations
In his book Aswathathmavu Verum Oru Aana (Ashwathama is just an elephant) published on February 4, Sivasankar alleged that a controversial iPhone he had given to customs was a birthday present from Swapna, and that he had no idea it was a bribe from Unitac. “The Red Crescent, the NGO based in the United Arab Emirates, sponsored a LIFE Mission housing project. They had entrusted the construction to the constructors of Unitac. Swapna got this phone from Santosh Eapen, the CEO of Unitac. The birthday present she gave me was something she received as a bribe. I never thought Swapna would cheat like that. I didn’t need an iPhone. Since it was a birthday present, I used it,” Sivasankar explains in the book.
Swapna, however, condemned the allegations and said the iPhone was a gift from the UAE Consulate General in Sivasankar, and that Sivansankar took it from her home when her phone had problems. “On December 2, the National Day of the United Arab Emirates, we used to do raffles and give out prizes. The iPhone was bought for this and it was given to Sivansanker as a token of appreciation,” she said, adding that she didn’t need to “trap him” by giving him an iPhone.
Swapna further says that Sivasnakar played a major role in appointing the builders of Unitac to the LIFE mission project. “Sivansakar was the only point of contact we (the UAE consulate) had with the government. It was he and Jamal Hussain Al Zaabi, the Consul General of the United Arab Emirates, who mutually decided on the company,” she said.
It has been revealed that the state government’s LIFE Mission housing project to build the houses and a hospital in Wadakkanchery in Thrissur district was signed directly between the UAE Consul General and Unitac Builders. The memorandum which was to be signed by the Red Crescent and the government of Kerala was signed without the presence of either party. LIFE Mission Director General UV Jose and an engineer involved in the Wadakkanchery project said Sivasankar asked them to provide all assistance to Unitac. Sivasankar received the phone as part of the bribe, the Law Enforcement Department had previously claimed in court.
Sivasankar mentions in his book that on July 1 and 2, 2020, Swapna contacted him by phone and WhatsApp, saying consulate officials were getting angry because a shipment had not cleared customs at the airport. He claimed that although she asked him for help, he replied that it was not fair to interfere in this, because customs have their own procedures.
“On the night of July 4, Swapna and her husband Jayashankar came to my house and asked me to intervene in the matter. Then they told me that the luggage contained things for Sarith (another employee of the UAE consulate and a co-accused in the case), for which duty had not been paid. I replied that I couldn’t get involved in it,” he says.
However, Swapna in her version to different media says that Sivansankar inquired about this and replied that the delay is due to the COVID-19 situation. “The relationship we had was such that he never said no to me,” she says.
Sivansankar claims that on July 5, 2020, when it was revealed that the consignment had been smuggling gold, Swapna and his family fled.
The question of the bank record
The Law Enforcement Directorate told a special court in Kochi in October 2020 that Sivasankar helped Swapna Suresh open a bank record in Thiruvananthapuram, where she is suspected of keeping the proceeds of smuggled gold . In the book, the officer says he just introduced his accountant to Swapna to help him open a locker.
Denying this, Swapna says the locker wasn’t for her. “Any ordinary man can get a facility in a bank to save his earnings. Why would I open an account in someone else’s name to save my earnings? I don’t know the accountant and it is Sivasankar who asked me to open the locker with Venugopal, the accountant. People can think about what’s behind it,” she said, implying that the money in the locker also belonged to Sivasankar.
She says all her money was placed in a fixed deposit and was frozen by the Enforcement Branch. “Why should I open a locker with a person (Venugopal) that I don’t know at all?” she asks.
Rendezvous Space Park
Swapna also claimed that Sivasankar was behind his appointment in the state space park project – which is a program under the Kerala government’s Knowledge City project in Thiruvananthapuram. “Sivasankar asked me to resign from the consulate because he was aware of the galley business that was happening in the consulate. He always warned me that he was not sure to work there. didn’t like me leaving Kerala because he wanted me here,” she said.
“That’s how he introduced me to working at the space park. There was no interview, I was appointed by telephone. I was not a government employee. I also wanted to quit my job at Space Park but he wouldn’t allow it,” she said. She also said that the senior officer promised to settle her in Dubai after retirement or after taking voluntary retirement.
However, in the book, Sivasankar completely denies any role in Swapna’s appointment to the government project. “A consultancy firm (PriceWaterhouseCoopers/PWC) responsible for doing the initial legwork for the park, hired her through a human resources firm, on a contractual basis. The consultant has been appointed temporarily. In Swapna’s bio data, my name was one of the references. Other than that, I didn’t recommend her for appointment to Space Park,” he says in the book.
Hit the media and investigators
Throughout his book, the IAS officer strongly condemned the media for “conspiring against him”. He says that in addition to making up stories, the media has also harassed him and those who supported him. “The media was behaving like crazy in the whole drama in which someone tried very hard to hide the truth,” he says.
The officer also blames the investigative agencies. He says they were trying to find something against him and arrest him, and were pressured to drag the chief minister into the case. “The media also created a background for this. They wanted proof, and there was none. They thought that with my arrest, it was easy to get a statement against the CM. But the problem they faced was that my statements to different agencies were the same, they also matched evidence,” he says.
Swapna also denied any connection between the chief minister and the affair, which was mostly alleged by the media. She says the CM didn’t know anything. She also denied the involvement of former minister KT Jaleel and former president Sreeramakrishnan in the matter, whose names have also been dragged out on several occasions as they were linked to Swapna and the UAE consulate.
Mr Sivasankar was arrested on October 28, 2020, in connection with the sensational gold smuggling case. The smuggled gold arrived in a shipment at the UAE consulate in Thiruvananthapuram in July 2020. Swana Suresh, Sarith and Sandeep Nair are the others arrested in connection with the case.