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Life Mission scam in Kerala: ‘CM Vijayan’s entire family is involved’, says Swapna Suresh after ED arrests former principal secretary Sivasankar

In its remand report submitted in the PMLA court, ED has stated that Sivasankar is guilty of the offence of money laundering by concealing the proceeds of crime, possession, and acquisition of the money under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).

Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan’s office has been facing allegations of corruption since the gold smuggling scam broke, highlighting the involvement of his former principal secretary M Sivasankar and minister KT Jaleel. Recently, the ED has taken M Sivasankar on a 5-day remand to interrogate him about the Life Mission Scam. A court in Kochi granted Sivasankar’s custody to ED on Wednesday, 15 February.

What is Life Mission Scam?

Life Mission was a government project to provide free housing for the homeless victims of Kerala floods in 2018. Irregularities in the scheme came to light when the ED was probing the gold smuggling case. The ED had reportedly got Rs 2 crores in cash, and 2kgs of gold from Swapna Suresh’s bank locker in October 2020. Swapna Suresh, the prime accused in the gold smuggling case, had told the ED that the money came from the commissions Sivasankar got from clinching a deal with The Red Crescent, an international aid group, for providing housing for 2018 flood victims in Wadakkanchery of Thrissur district. Sivasankar had allegedly asked Swapna to keep the cash in her locker.

As per reports, the Kerala government’s so-called deal with Red Crescent was done without notifying the Central government, in violation of FCRA rules. The CBI had objected to the deal and had filed a case, but the Kerala government under Vijayan had moved to court to claim the deal was not in violation of FCRA. However, the court refused to quash the case.

The Kerala govt collected money through the UAE consulate

The ED found that a total amount of Rs 18.5 crores from the Red Crescent was collected through the UAE consulate in Kerala’s capital. While an amount of Rs 14.5 crores was spent on the flood victim’s rehabilitation project, the remaining amount of Rs 4 crores was divided among the Kerala government and UAE consulate staffers. Sivasankar had reportedly made Rs 1 crore from the deal.

140 families in Vadakancherry of Thrissur district were the beneficiaries of the Red Crescent aid.

After ED got Sivasankar under its custody, Swapna Suresh, who is now out on bail and has shifted base to Bengaluru, has claimed that the entire family of CM Pinarayi Vijayan is involved in the Life Mission scam.

2 private contractors, namely Unitac Builders and Sane Ventures had been hired to build the houses. Congress MLA from Wadakkanchery, Anil Akkara, had filed a complaint alleging that the selection of contractors has been done after rampant corruption and bribery.

In its remand report submitted in the PMLA court, ED has stated that Sivasankar is guilty of the offence of money laundering by concealing the proceeds of crime, and possession of the money under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA). The probe agency has also submitted the detailed money trail from Red Crescent to Unitac.

As per the ED, an amount of Rs 5.25 crore to the Federal Bank and a sum of Rs 2.25 crore to the Axis Bank were transferred on August 1, 2019. A part of the same amount was subsequently withdrawn by Santhosh Eappen, MD of Unitac Builders, and handed over as ‘commission’ to Sivasankar for allocating the contract to them. The agency has also carried out detailed digital investigations of chats, phone calls, call records and IMEI numbers of the phones and other traces. They have also submitted that the iPhone in Sivasankar’s possession was given to him by Unitac Builders, a report in NIE detailed.

ED has also stated that Sivasankar has been uncooperative, and evasive. Swapna Suresh had earlier stated that she and Sivasankar had intimate relationships and were planning to settle in Dubai.

Gold Smuggling scam and Pinarayi Vijayan’s office

On July 5, 2020, customs officials at the Thiruvananthapuram international airport found gold weighing over 30 kilograms and valued at almost Rs 15 crore. This gold was concealed in diplomatic baggage and sent to the UAE embassy via air freight.

After getting information that the suitcase was part of a smuggling network aiming to misappropriate the name of a diplomat with diplomatic immunity, customs authorities took action.

In this case, Swapna Suresh is the primary accused. Swapna Suresh, a former employee of the UAE consulate, had been engaged by a private business to work on a project for the Kerala Information Technology Department, which was led by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. M Sivasankar, the CM’s former principal secretary, used to be in charge of this department. Suresh was caught using a diplomatic passport and forged documents to smuggle gold into India from UAE.

The NIA had earlier found that the racket had managed to bring in 1.5 quintals (150 kgs) of gold in the country through diplomatic channels at Thiruvananthapuram airport since September 2019. The NIA had further disclosed that the smuggling of gold was not done for jewellery but for funding terrorist activities in India.

Swapna Suresh, who speaks Arabic, was reportedly the primary mediator of the talks between the CM’s office and the UAE consulate.

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