M Sivasankar (File photo)
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM/KOCHI: Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan on Tuesday engaged in some quick damage control by forcing his principal secretary, IAS officer M Sivasankar, to quit as a gold smuggling racket involving diplomatic channels threatened to expose the alleged complicity of the chief minister’s office (CMO) in the crime.
Sivasankar, who was also IT secretary, applied for a year’s leave and was immediately granted the same after UDF and BJP levelled serious allegations against him in connection with the main accused, Swapna Suresh, who is on the run. It was alleged that Sivasankar was responsible for recruiting Swapna to a plum post in the IT department, a portfolio held by Vijayan, despite a dubious background and a pending crime branch inquiry against her in a forgery case.
The CM vehemently denied any wrongdoing on the part of the CMO and said his government welcomed any probe. “When allegations were levelled against Sivasankar by linking him with the controversial woman, he was removed from the post. However, the allegations are not legally tenable. But there were several remarks in society linking him to the woman. Such an individual shouldn’t be part of the CMO at this juncture. Hence, we took such a decision,” Vijayan said.
At a news conference on Tuesday evening, the CM, however, completely evaded or refused to answer pointed questions on the extent and nature of Swapna’s contact with Sivasankar and whether or not the CM should take some form of moral responsibility for what happened.
On Sunday, based on specific intelligence, customs detected 30kg of gold concealed in household items in a diplomatic baggage that was seized at Thiruvananthapuram international airport. Customs authorities took the ministry of external affairs’ permission before opening the bag in the presence of officials from the UAE consulate. The precious metal was hidden in a door lock, pipe, car tyre pump and a speaker, sources said.
Sarith Kumar, a former PRO in the UAE consulate who had tried to receive the cargo by claiming to be a consulate staff, was arrested after questioning. Sarith, an accomplice of Swapna, had been receiving the cargo for the consulate at the airport for the past one year.
State BJP chief K Surendran alleged that the first call to protect Swapna was from the CMO, while leader of opposition in the assembly, Ramesh Chennithala, demanded a CBI probe in a letter written to the PM. Following the controversy, the IT department terminated Swapna’s contract on Monday.
Surendran alleged that Vijayan knows Swapna since 2017. “She is a regular presence in the corridors of power in Thiruvananthapuram and is familiar to the CPM leaders,” he said.