ED summons the private secretary of the Kerala chief minister in the Life Mission kickback case
A week after Kerala chief minister Pinarati Vijayan’s main secretary, M. Sivasankar, was arrested, the CM’s additional private secretary, C. M. Raveendran, was called in by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Thursday as part of the ongoing investigation into alleged kickbacks in the state government’s Life Mission project.
People close to the federal agency said that Raveendran has been told by the ED to show up at its Kochi office on Monday, February 27.
Last week, a supposed chat between Raveendran and Swapna Suresh, the two main suspects in the gold smuggling and Life Mission cases, came to light. The supposed chat showed that Raveendran and Swapna Suresh were in touch and gave each other advice. HT couldn’t check to see if these chats were real.
Raveendran is known to be close to the chief minister, and even though there were some charges against him, Vijayan kept him on for his second term.
People who were quoted above said that after questioning Sivasankar and the former director of Life Mission, U V Jose, the central agency now has some clear leads in the case. Sivasankar was taken into custody by the ED on February 14. He is still there.
In one of the WhatsApp conversations, it is said that Sivasankar told Swapna Suresh to talk to Raveendran about the project to find out more. In 2020, the agency questioned Raveendran about money laundering charges related to the gold smuggling case. He went to ED after being called there three times and was admitted to the hospital twice.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI(M), which was in power at the time, broke ties with Raveendran.
“The ED can question anyone, even Raveendran, and we have no problem with that,” party state secretary M V Govindan said a few days ago. He also said that the central agencies can’t get close to the CM.
The Life Mission project case is about money laundering in a housing project in Vadakancherry, Thrissur district, that was paid for by the international aid group “Red Crescent” to build free flats for flood victims in 2019. Some people from the UAE consulate in Thiruvananthapuram, the state capital, made sure that the deal went through. Out of the 18.50 crore that was given, only 14.50 crore was spent. The rest, 4 crore, is said to have been split between consulate officials, state government officials, and a couple of middlemen.
Central agencies found out about the alleged kickbacks when they were looking into the gold smuggling case. In June 2020, 30 kg of smuggled gold was taken from the UAE consulate.
In October 2020, one crore in cash and two kilogrammes of gold were found in Swapna’s bank lockers. She reportedly told authorities that the money was the commission she got for making a deal with “Red Crescent.” She said that Sivasankar told her to put his commission money in her locker, and she did as he asked. But Sivasankar said that the gold smuggling gangs were putting him in trouble.