Thiruvananthapuram: An NIA Court in Kochi on Sunday remanded to judicial custody the alleged kingpin in the sensational Kerala gold smuggling case and another key accused as Central agencies expanded their scope of investigation and held more suspects for their role in the case.
Swapna Suresh and Sandeep Nair, the two key accused in the case were remanded to custody on Sunday, a day after their arrest from Bengaluru in connection with the case that has led to a political storm, targeting the Pinarayi Vijayan-led LDF government.
The arrested duo took the mandatory COVID-19 test before they were produced before the NIA special court, where the investigation agency moved an application seeking their custody for interrogation.
The Court, which for the time being remanded them to judicial custody, will on Monday consider the NIA application seeking custody of the accused.
After their remand, the two were sent to coronavirus care facilities, official sources said.
Meanwhile, widening the scope of investigation, Central agencies on Sunday carried out searches at various places across the state and picked up some suspects allegedly having a role in the illegal trade of gold.
Highly placed sources told PTI that evidence collected from various places "clearly suggest the role of some powerful persons" of the state in the smuggling of the yellow metal.
They would be summoned for questioning after a thorough scientific scrutiny of the evidence being gathered in the ongoing investigation, they said.
Besides NIA and Customs, other central agencies dealing with the financial offences are also involved in the probe. The sleuths from the Customs (Preventive) Division, have taken into their custody a man, suspected to be a major player in the gold smuggling in the state, after conducting raids at his residence in north Kerala.
Earlier in the morning, workers of the Congress and BJP staged protests at several places in the state as the two were being brought to Kochi in vehicles from Bengaluru. The protesters, raising slogans against the CPI(M)-led LDF government, assembled at various places, including outside the Taluk hospital, Aluva in Ernakulam when the duo were brought there for the mandatory COVID-19 test.
The protesters had also assembled near the NIA office here where Swapna Susresh and Sandeep Nair were first taken, but were chased away by police.
The NIA had on Saturday taken into custody Suresh and Nair, both of whom were on the run, in connection with the bid to smuggle over 30 kg of gold using diplomatic channels through the Thiruvananthapuram international airport.
Suresh, a former employee of the UAE consulate in Thiruvananthapuram, and Nair are among the four people booked by the central agency in connection with the case of smuggling of the gold, which arrived in a diplomatic baggage at the airport and was seized by the Customs on July 5.
The NIA had on Friday registered FIR under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and said it has taken up the probe as the case has international linkages and initial inquiries revealing the proceeds of the smuggled gold could be used for financing terrorism in India.
The gold, valued at around Rs 15 crore, was seized by the Customs (Preventive) Commissionerate, Kochi. Suresh, Sarith and Nair of Thiruvananthapuram and Fazil Fareed of Ernakulam have been arraigned as accused.
Meanwhile, sharpening his attack against the ruling Left front on the issue, Congress veteran Ramesh Chennithal alleged Kerala has become a "hub" of smuggling of gold and wanted the NIA to expand its ambit of probe. With the premier investigating agency probing the case, having arrested key accused including the alleged kingpin Suresh, Chennithala said NIA should investigate the possible role of government officials.
Referring to the removal of IAS officer M Sivasankar as principal secretary to the Chief Minister and IT Secretary after his name emerged in the case, the senior Congress leader alleged that the action itself speaks about the link of the gold smuggling mafia with the state government.
"The Chief Minister was forced to remove the officer from the post of his principal secretary following the emergence of some telling evidence of his links with Swapna," Chennithala told PTI.
"I don't think any state government agency would carry out a free and fair probe into the illegal nexus between mafia and ruling dispensation," he alleged.
Therefore, the NIA should expand its probe in the case covering the possible role of the higher ups in the state government, he said.