Gold smuggling case evidence burnt in Kerala Secretariat fire: Opposition
On Tuesday evening, a fire broke out in the North block of the Kerala Secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram, sparking a political row. Leaders of Opposition parties, Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), staged a protest outside the secretariat after the incident, claiming the fire was a conspiracy to destroy evidence related to the gold smuggling case. Here are more details.
The fire erupted in section II of the protocol section under the General Administration Department around 4.45 pm, sources told News 18. The fire was brought under control soon after, however, some files, documents, and computers were reportedly destroyed. P Honey, Additional Secretary of the Housekeeping Cell at the Secretariat, said a short circuit from a computer possibly caused the fire.
Honey said that there were only two people in the office at the time of the fire since the remaining staff had gone on quarantine. The two were not injured, he said. The protocol section is located on the second floor of the secretariat building.
On Monday, assistant protocol officer MS Harikrishnan was summoned by the National Investigation Agency in connection with the gold smuggling case. Opposition leaders have hence alleged that the fire is related to the gold smuggling case. Kerala BJP President K Surendran said the fire was a conspiracy to destroy case evidence. Leader of Opposition in the Kerala Assembly Ramesh Chennithala demanded a comprehensive probe.
The case pertains to the seizure of 30 kilograms of gold worth Rs. 14.86 crore on July 5 at the Thiruvananthapuram Airport. The gold was found in a diplomatic bag addressed to the United Arab Emirates Consulate in Thiruvananthapuram. Notably, IAS M Sivasankar was removed as Principal Secretary in the Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan's office over suspected links to an accused.
After the fire, BJP and Congress leaders staged a protest outside the secretariat building. Surendran, who had also reached the spot along with other party leaders, was taken into police custody. He was later released. Reportedly, journalists were also evicted from the scene while some were allegedly manhandled by security officers. Following the protests, Chennithala and MLA VS Sivakumar were allowed on premises.
Chennithala said, "Important files regarding the gold smuggling case were completely destroyed. No backup file is available. This is a suspicious case. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan is responsible." He added, "The agencies should investigate this because there are several files in the protocol section in connection with the gold smuggling case. It is an attempt to save the state Protocol Officer Shine Haq."
Surendran also told ANI, "Files containing details about the gold smuggling case, including those sought by the NIA and other probe agencies in connection with Minister KT Jaleel were purposefully burnt," adding that they were arrested when they tried to "bring out the truth."