The Customs department on Wednesday asked the Kerala protocol officer to furnish details of diplomatic consignments that arrived at the Thiruvananthapuram international airport in the last few months as part of the probe into the gold smuggling case.
Speculation is also rife that state higher education minister K T Jaleel may be grilled to clear the air on the “import of holy books”.
As a local arrangement in Kerala, exemption certificates for diplomatic bags are issued by the state protocol officer after obtaining details like weight and country of origin, people aware of the ongoing probe into the gold smuggling case said.
After the gold smuggling racket was busted with the seizure of 30 kg of the yellow metal on July 5 from a bag that came in the name of an employee of the United Arab Emirates consulate, Jaleel claimed that the consulate had donated copies of Quran and he took them to his constituency for distribution.
But former diplomats and others said no country exports religious books and special permission was needed for such imports also. “Religious books are not imported. If at all it happens, special permission is needed for this,” said former diplomat T P Sreenivasan.
Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan also said no such permission was sought.
A senior officer of the Customs said a heavy consignment came on March 4 in 30 bags weighing more than 4,000 kg and they were taken to Malappuram in a government vehicle. “We have got some definite information. We are really intrigued about the contents. Investigation is going on the right track,” he said.
Jaleel’s number figured prominently in the call lists of the main accused in the smuggling case Swapna Suresh. The minister then addressed a press conference in Malappuram saying he had interacted with her for distribution of Ramzan kits offered by the UAE consulate. He also said he was in touch with her as a “diplomatic staff” but he did not mention the consignment he took to Malappuram.
It came to light a week after when Customs and NIA officials questioned employees and a driver of the C-Apt (Kerala Centre for Advanced Printing and Training), a government body under Jaleel’s ministry. After this, the minister admitted he took holy books to his constituency and he was ready for any punishment for this. He also took a swipe at journalists saying “these holy books were not made in gold”.
But BJP state president K Surendran said the minister dragged religion into the issue after his alleged role came to light. “His lies are falling one by one. We have information these consignments were unloaded in three places including Bengaluru,” he said. When contacted the minister refused any comments saying he stands by what he had said earlier.
Meanwhile Kerala police chief Loknath Behra has directed the state cyber wing to probe bullying of senior Malayalam electronic media journalists including women scribes and submit a report in 24 hours.
The Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ) had petitioned chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan saying these journalists were targeted and attacked on social media citing their personal life and other details “for taking proactive stand on several issues including the sensational gold smuggling case.”
Shockingly, the CM’s Press secretary also posted some comments against electronic media journalists, which many senior journalists alleged triggered such an intense cyber bullying against scribes. When asked about this, the CM evaded a direct reply saying the law was applicable to all.