NIA arrests suspected PFI member in Kerala gold smuggling case

Unearthing a Popular Front of India (PFI) link to the Kerala gold smuggling scandal, the National Investigation Agency (NIA) has arrested a member of the controversial organization for assisting the suspected kingpin of the racket, the agency said on Sunday.

Apart from the PFI member identified as Muhammad Ali, five more suspects have also been arrested from Kerala for conspiring with the gold smugglers; raids have been conducted at six places in Kerala in the past three days, the NIA said.

Ernakulam resident Ali, arrested on Saturday, is a PFI member and took part in the smuggling racket besides aiding and assisting a person named Jalal A M in collecting the smuggled gold from suspected kingpin Ramees K T in Thiruvananthapuram and distributing the contraband among other conspirators, deputy inspector general (DIG) Sonia Narang, who is also the NIA spokesperson, said.

When contacted, PFI’s Kerala state president C P Mohammad Bashir denied that Ali is a PFI member. “He is not associated with us. PFI’s name is being dragged {into the case},” Bashir said.

Ali had been arrested by Kerala police in connection with an attack on July 4, 2010 on professor T K Joseph of Newman College, Thodupuzha; he was acquitted n May 2015 for want of evidence. The NIA has been investigating the case since 2011 and after his arrest now in the gold smuggling case, officials who didn’t wish to be named said they will again probe Ali’s role in the attack.

Joseph was attacked for preparing a question paper that carried allegedly blasphemous content against the Prophet. His palm was chopped off during the attack, but was surgically restored. Thirteen people were convicted and 17 let off by the NIA court in Ernakulam in 2015 in connection with the attack.

NIA is investigating a larger terror conspiracy in the smuggling of gold in various districts of Kerala. It is suspected that a wider network of terror financing and hawala operations is linked to the smuggling racket.

Apart from Ali, those arrested in last three days include Jalal A M and Said Alvi E, residents of Ernakulam and Malappuram respectively. They were arrested on charges of conspiring with Ramees KT, who had been arrested earlier, and for smuggling gold through diplomatic baggage addressed to the United Arab Emirates consulate in Thiruvananthapuram.

Two more men, namely Mohammed Shafi and Abdu PT, both residents of Malappuram district, were arrested for allegedly playing similar roles. On Saturday, NIA arrested Muhammad Ali Ebrahim along with Muhammad Ali, both residents of Muvattupuzha, Ernakulam.

The four arrested earlier included Swapna Suresh, a former information technology consultant with the Kerala government, and P.Sarith Kumar, who had gone to the Thiruvananthapuram International Airport on July 3 to pick up a consignment addressed to the UAE consulate. At least 30 kilograms of 24-carat gold — the best quality — estimated to be worth at least Rs 15 crore, were found hidden inside pipes contained in a carton.

Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s powerful secretary M Sivasankar, a senior Indian Administrative Service officer, has been suspended over his alleged links with Suresh. Opposition parties have sought the resignation of the CM, saying he was aware of his secretary’s role in the smuggling racket.

In Delhi, minister of state for external affairs V Muraleedharan observed a one-day fast in his residence on Sunday. “It is sad the CM’s office has turned a hub for anti-national activities. He can’t get away by sacrificing some officials,” he said.


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