IndiaKerala(Thiruvananthapuram)States and Capitals

Corruption case: ED summons Vijayan’s top aide

Thursday, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) questioned the extra private secretary of Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan in connection with its investigation into potential anomalies in the state government’s Life Mission programme, according to persons acquainted with the matter.

The ED summons to CM Raveendran came a week after the federal anti-money laundering investigation agency arrested Vijayan’s chief secretary in relation to the case. “ED has instructed Raveendran to appear at its Kochi office on February 27,” a source with knowledge of the situation said on condition of anonymity.

After Sivasankar, who was arrested on February 14, was questioned, there were rumours that the ED might summon Raveendran.

“After interviewing Sivasankar and former Life Mission director and IAS officer UV Jose, the agency obtained concrete leads,” according to the official cited above.

The case involves the alleged diversion of funds contributed by the international charity organisation “Red Crescent” for the 2019 construction of a home complex for flood-affected persons in Vadakancherry, Thrissur district, as part of the Kerala government’s Life Mission programme.

The transaction was facilitated by several officials of the UAE consulate; of the 18.50 crores received from the assistance agency, 14.50 crores were spent, and the remaining 4 crores were allegedly shared among some officials of the UAE consulate, state government officials, and a few middlemen.

In addition, alleged violations of Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) regulations were noted, as the federal government was not informed of the foreign aid to the project.

A rumoured conversation between Raveendran and Swapna Suresh, former executive secretary at the Consulate and principal suspect in gold smuggling and Life Mission cases, was discovered last week. Although HT was unable to verify the veracity of these discussions, they allegedly demonstrated that both parties were in contact and exchanged advice and instructions.

Officials said that in one of the WhatsApp exchanges, Sivasankar instructed Swapna to contact Raveendran for further information about the project. In 2020, Raveendran was questioned by ED on money laundering charges in the gold smuggling case. After receiving three summonses, he appeared before the federal agency and was hospitalised to the hospital twice.

The ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) has cut ties with the influential secretary. “Let the ED question anyone, including Raveendran, we have no problem,” CPI(M) state secretary MV Govindan stated days after Sivasankar’s arrest, adding that the CM Vijayan cannot be approached by federal agents.

As central agencies were investigating the dramatic gold smuggling case in which 30 kg of smuggled gold was confiscated from the UAE consulate in the state capital in June 2020, allegations of kickbacks appeared. When the lockers of the primary suspect, Swapna Suresh, were raided by federal agents in October 2020, they yielded 1 crore in cash and 2 kg of gold. Afterwards, she reportedly explained that the money was a commission for closing a deal with the international relief organisation “Red Crescent.”

She claimed Sivasankar instructed her to store his commission in her locker. However, Sivasankar, who maintained his innocence, stated that the gold smuggling lobby implicated him in the crime.

A Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) court in Kochi has extended the ED’s custody of Sivasankar until February 24.

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