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Kerala gold smuggling case: NIA grills Kerala minister for 8 hrs as agencies close in on him

01:21 AM Sep 18, 2020 | K RAVEENDRAN

Kochi: Higher education minister KT Jaleel, who is under a cloud over the import of Quran through the diplomatic channel with a possible link to gold smuggling, was questioned by NIA investigators at the agency’s Kochi office on Thursday.

The questioning lasted for eight hours and the agency will decide the next course of action after examining the minister’s answers in detail. Sources said no clean chit has been issued on the basis of Thursday’s questioning.

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He had earlier been questioned by the Enforcement Directorate over two days in connection with the same issue. ED has indicated that he would be quizzed again on the basis of digital evidence collected from the phones and laptops of Swapna Suresh and Sandeep Nair, the two main suspects in the gold smuggling case.

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It is learnt that now Customs will also interrogate Jaleel in view of his statements made to ED and NIA. After emerging from the questioning session at NIA, the minister headed towards a rest house in Ernakulam in a private car, which he had used to reach the agency office early in the morning. Although he was expected to use his official car waiting at the rest house, he got into another private car on the way, giving the slip to waiting newsmen.

He had reached the NIA office at 6 am, much before the office opened and waited there as the agency had turned down his request for holding the session in the night. He had also suggested an online interrogation, but the NIA refused to oblige, asking him to present himself before the investigators.

The ministers plan to come for the interrogation stealthily was thwarted as the reporter of a television channel captured the video of his arrival on a mobile phone. As the news flashed, an army of media persons rushed to the scene, along with large number of protesters belonging to different parties, who carried on their agitation even while the minister was being questioned.

The news of the minister’s appearance before NIA led to statewide protests and demand for his resignation. Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala and state BJP president K Surendran claimed that the government has lost the moral authority and demanded the resignation of the Pinarayi Vijayan government.

They alleged in separate statements that more ministers are involved in the scam and this is what is holding back the chief minister from asking Jaleel to resign. Ramesh Chennithala claimed that the chief minister was stonewalling the resignation demand, fearing that the investigations may ultimately reach his own office.

Pinarayi Vijayan continued to defend Jaleel in his daily news briefing, saying that the minister had committed no crime and he had only acted on a request from the UAE consul general for the distribution of Ramzaan kits and the religious books.

Police used teargas shells, water canons and lathi-charge in a number of places, leading to injuries to the protesters, some of which were reportedly of a serious nature. Young Congress MLAs KS Sabarinathan and VT Balaram were arrested along with a large number of protesters for violating Covid protocols.

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