IAS officer link to flat where gold trio met
An apartment in Thiruvananthapuram that had been taken on rent days before a Kerala gold smuggling racket was busted and where most of the key suspects had gathered has been linked to an IAS officer who ran the chief minister’s office till the scandal broke.
The disclosure came hours after the IAS officer, M. Sivasankar, was questioned by the customs department through the night till the early hours of Wednesday.
Customs sources and a former subordinate said the IAS officer had got the fourth-floor apartment booked for three days in June-end, in the run-up to the arrival of the bag containing 30kg of gold valued at Rs 14.8 crore at the Thiruvananthapuram international airport from the UAE.
Security camera visuals customs officials have collected from the apartment building show Sivasankar, Swapna Suresh, Sandeep Nair and K.T. Rameez had visited the place days before the smuggling bid was foiled, the customs sources said.
Swapna, Sandeep and Rameez have been arrested in the smuggling case.
All of them, except Sivasankar, had visited the apartment the day before the cargo in which the gold had been smuggled in arrived on June 30. They had stepped out of the apartment several times over the next two days when customs officials refused to release the cargo, the sources said.
On Wednesday morning, IT officer Arun Balachandran came out to disclose before reporters that he had made arrangements for the furnished apartment after Sivasankar told him that he needed one for a “friend” who was in between shifting houses.
Balachandran, who has been designated as IT fellow, told reporters: “Sir (Sivasankar) had asked me to check the tariff. So I gathered the information and passed it on to him. We had communicated over WhatsApp and the records are still there in my phone.”
Asked if he knew who was going to occupy the apartment, Balachandran said he had no idea.
“Sir had said a friend’s family was moving to another house and they needed a place to stay for three days. He had said the family’s house was being furnished, so they needed some time before moving into the new place,” Balachandran said.
Told that Swapna’s husband Jaishankar was the first to check into the apartment, Balachandran exclaimed: “Oh God!”
Customs and police sources said Sivasankar himself owns an apartment on the fifth floor of the same building. Customs officials searched Sivasankar’s apartment, where he does not live, on Wednesday afternoon.
Sivasankar, 57, has been removed from the helm of the chief minister’s office and the information technology department after the smuggling came to light.
Sivasankar, who was the secretary in the CMO and the principal secretary of the IT department, is accused of having links with three of the four persons named in the FIR filed by the National Investigation Agency.
The sources said the customs department had gathered sufficient information about Sivasankar before interrogating him from 5.30pm on Tuesday to 2.30am on Wednesday. Although he said that he knew P.S. Sarith (the first accused), Swapna and Sandeep, he added that he had no idea about their activities, a source recounted.
According to leaked call data records, Sivasankar had exchanged lengthy calls with Swapna and Sarith around a month before the smuggling.
Confronted with visual evidence related to the four key members of the gold smuggling gang, Sivasankar is said to have told his quizzers that he didn’t know about their activities.