The National Investigation Agency (NIA) questioned Kerala higher education minister KT Jaleel at its Kochi office on Thursday in connection with the agency’s probe into the Thiruvananthapuram international airport gold smuggling case.
The premier anti-terror agency grilled the minister for about nine hours. The minister who entered the NIA office in Kochi around 6 am came out at 4.55 pm, spending a marathon 11 hours inside the agency’s building.
Though the NIA had asked him to appear at 9 am on Thursday, the minister reached the office three hours early, a move clearly aimed to escape the media glare. The minister reached the NIA office in a private car that belonged to CPI-M leader A M Yousuf, a former MLA.
Jaleel was quizzed by the NIA to get details about his links with Swapna Suresh, the prime accused in the Kerala gold smuggling scandal. After Swapna’s arrest in July, mobile call details retrieved by the NIA revealed that she had contacted Jaleel on several occasions.
The NIA’s questioning of Jaleel on Thursday came a week after he was questioned by the Enforcement Directorate (ED), on two days ~ last Thursday and Friday ~ in connection with the case.
It is learnt that the NIA has collected details about copies of the Quran Jaleel received from the UAE consulate in March which was transported in a government vehicle to various places in Kerala.The minister had then claimed that he had received around 300 copies of the Quran while over 7,500 copies are estimated to have been imported by the UAE consulate.
In the wake of the NIA grilling Jaleel in Kochi, Opposition Congress and the BJP stepped up protests against Pinarayi Vijayan-led government demanding the minister’s resignation. Scores of Congress/Youth Congress and BJP/YuvaMorch workers were injured in the police lathicharge in several parts of the state.
Workers of the Youth Congress, BJP/YuvaMorcha, MahilaMorcha and KSU (student outfit of Congress) clashed with the police in Palakkad, Kollam, Kozhikode, Kottayam and Kannur. In Palakkad, MLA and Congress leader VT Balram was among those injured in clashes with police. The state has been witnessing a plethora of protests for the sixth consecutive day demanding Jaleel’s resignation.
Congress and BJP have been demanding Jaleel’s resignation over his alleged involvement in the gold smuggling case, ever since he was grilled by the Enforce Directorate( ED). However, state law minister A K Balan hit back at the Opposition leader and told the media in Palakkad that the demand for resignation would have had some sense if Jaleel had been arraigned as an accused in any case. He said “seeking information” was part of the procedure of investigation and there was no need for anyone to resign.
“If all are made to resign when questioned by investigation agencies, nobody will be able to rule the state or Centre,” Balan said on Thursday. Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan had the other categorically stated that there is no need for Jaleel to quit over the case.
The case is being probed by the NIA, Enforcement Directorate and the Customs department, and it pertains to the smuggling of gold in the state through diplomatic channels.
Meanwhile, chief minister Vijayan said here on Thursday that action would be taken against the protest esters under Disaster Management Act and Epidemic ordinance. He made the statement in the backdrop of Congress and BJP intensifying the protests demanding Jaleel’s resignation.
Multiple rings of police security were thrown around the NIA office as the news broke about the minister’s appearance before the NIA team probing the gold smuggling case.
“At least 12 officials were injured when protesters clashed with the police at Palakkad. Shoulders of three officials were dislocated while one official was injured with a sharp object on his cheek. He got 12 stitches,” a police official said.
The NIA office premises here also witnessed separate protests by activists belonging to youth wings of the Congress and the BJP.
Leader of the Opposition in the Kerala Assembly, Ramesh Chennithala said the government should resign and face elections.
“The NIA normally questions someone for a scheduled crime. At least now, the chief minister should seek Jaleel’s resignation. It seems like the chief minister is refusing to seek the resignation because he fears the probe will reach his office. The government should resign under these circumstances and face an election,” Chennithala said at a Press conference at Haripad, his home constituency in Alappuzha district.
Meanwhile, BJP state chief K Surendran said the allegations faced by Jaleel were serious and sought his resignation and asked the government to step down.
“The chief minister should understand that it’s not right for someone who can be influential to remain in power while the investigation is on. The allegations he (Jaleel) is facing are quite serious. All his phone calls details show he had regular contact with the gold smuggling accused,” Surendran said .
~With inputs from PTI~