Kerala gold smuggling case accused releases audio clip, govt shunts out vigilance bureau head

The allegations raised by gold smuggling case accused Swapna Suresh against Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and others got murkier with the release of an audio clip on Friday in which a journalist-cum-real estate dealer named Shaj Kiran is heard saying that Vijayan’s and CPI(M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan’s funds are being sent to the US through Believers’ Church, a church founded by Kerala-based Christian evangelist K P Yohannan.

As the controversy rattled Kerala, the state government removed Additional Director General of Police M R Ajith Kumar as head of the Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau (VACB) after it was found that he was in constant touch with Kiran. Suresh had alleged that Kiran was forcing her to withdraw her statement to a Kochi court in a money laundering case, saying that he had spoken to top IPS officers in the state to settle the issue.

Suresh, who is back in the limelight after she accused the chief minister earlier this week of taking a bag full of currency to the UAE in 2016, released the clip in Palakkad. Suresh had named Vijayan’s wife Kamala and their daughter Veena and alleged that they too were involved in the smuggling.

Suresh said that she was facing a threat to her life and alleged that Kiran exerted pressure on her to retract her allegations against Vijayan and others. Kiran allegedly claimed that he was in touch with ADGP Kumar and ADGP (Law and Order) Vijay Sakhare to settle the issue. Although Sakhare denied his involvement, Kumar was silent over the matter.

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After Suresh made the allegations against Vijayan and others, the VACB had forcibly taken away P S Sarith, her co-accused in the smuggling case, from his residence in Palakkad. The VACB action was in connection with a probe into a corruption case related to a housing project implemented with aid from Red Crescent, UAE.

According to Suresh, Kiran was aware of the vigilance bureau’s plan to take Sarith into custody a day earlier, indicating that he was in touch with vigilance officials. Kiran also allegedly gave an assurance to Suresh that she would not be arrested till Thursday noon (June 9) in connection with the criminal case registered against her following her defamatory comments against Vijayan and others.

The audio clip released on Friday is of a conversation between Suresh and Kiran after the police registered the case against her. Kiran is heard saying in the clip that “Vijayan is the wealthiest man in Kerala. From Kerala, the funds of Vijayan and Balakrishnan have been taken out to the US through the Believers Church”. Believers Church has denied the allegations and said they only know Kiran as a journalist.

Kiran, who has worked with various news channels in Kerala, did not deny the audio clip, but claimed that it was edited.

In another part of the conversation, Kiran is heard rebuking Suresh for naming Veena in the scandal. “Was there any situation that necessitated speaking against Veena,” he asks. Kiran is also heard advising Suresh to surrender after taking money from those affected by her revelations.

Both Congress and BJP sought Vijayan’s resignation, a demand rejected by the CPI(M). Opposition leader V D Satheesan said the government should reveal if Kiran was a middleman sent by the police. “Vijayan should quit the post. Central agencies are not probing Suresh’s allegations because of the deal between BJP and CPI(M),” he alleged.

BJP state president K Surendran said Vijayan should quit and face a probe. “Does Vijayan have the guts to arrest Kiran who has alleged that Vijayan has investments in the US?” he said.

However, CPI(M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan said there was a political agenda behind the allegations. “There is a concerted attempt to attack the chief minister and his family. There is no consistency in Suresh’s statement. I have never met Suresh and Kiran. If the opposition wants to create a riot in the state over the allegations, the government will face it by marshalling the people,’’ he said.

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