Top Kerala bureaucrat M Sivasankar was on Thursday suspended pending inquiry in the gold smuggling case, days after being removed as Principal Secretary to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, while an official of the UAE consulate here, a key witness, returned to his country. The suspension of Sivasankar, also removed as IT secretary and is on a year’s leave, was based on the report of a high-level panel headed by Chief Secretary Dr Vishwas Mehta, which enquired into allegations that the officer had close links with a key woman accused in the case. Vijayan announced the suspension of Sivasankar for ‘violation’ of All-India Service Rules. The action came two days after the IAS officer was summoned by Customs officials and grilled for nearly nine hours lasting till around 2 am on Wednesday to find out if he had used his office to provide any help to key accused — Sarith, Swapna Suresh and Sandeep Nair. The consulate official, who enjoys immunity under the ViennaConvention, reached Delhi from here on Sunday and took another flight to the United Arab Emirates, sources privy to the development said. “This development has been noted”, an officer, part of the investigations, told PTI on Thursday. As the scam hit the LDF government in the midst of COVID- 19 pandemic, the opposition Congress-led UDF and the BJP used it as ammunition to target the Chief Minister, demanding his resignation. The Congress also demanded that Vijayan be questioned by the NIA and other agencies to unravel the truth. Vijayan said the government took action against Sivasankar based on the recommendation by the panel headed by the chief secretary. “The committee has found that Sivasankar had violated the All India Service Rules. Based on the recommendation in the report, he has been suspended. The department-level enquiry will continue,” he told reporters here. The Customs had on July 5, seized gold, weighing over 30 kg and valued at around ₹15 crore from a diplomatic baggage addressed to the UAE consulate. The probe into the case has been entrusted with the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which has booked four people – Sarith, Suresh, Nair and Fareed — under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and barring Fareed others have been arrested. The Customs is probing whether Sivasankar had used his office to provide any help to the key accused. On alleged fake certificate submitted by Sureshfor getting a posting in a project under the IT department,from which she has been removed after her name cropped up in the smuggling racket, Vijayan said the police was probing it based on the complaint filed by the concerned department. A CBI probe as demanded by the opposition was not required, he added. When asked about the removal of Chief Minister’s IT Fellow Arun Balachandran, following reports that he had made arrangements for getting a flat for Suresh, Vijayan said the person was appointed based on the recommendation of an expert panel and the matter was being probed by a central agency. “A serious investigation is going on in the matter.I hope the probe will not be compromised. As of now, I do not feel there is any lapse in the ongoing investigation,” he said. Reacting to Sivasankar’s suspension, senior Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala said Vijayan should be questioned and only then the truth will come out. “The chief minister tried his level best to protect Sivasankar. But all his efforts failed and he was forced to take action against the official. One thing is very clear that the Chief Ministeris involved and he should be questioned by NIA and other agencies. His role should come out”, he said. Vijayan should also be brought under the probe’s purview and he has the moral responsibility for the actions of his principal secretary, Chennithala said in a release. The ruling CPI(M) has alleged that the gold smuggling case was being used by the BJP and the UDF to destabilisethe LDF government. The issue was being used to target the chief minister,the party said inan editorialin its mouthpiece People’s Democracy published on Wednesday.
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