NIA questions Kerala minister KT Jaleel in gold smuggling case; Congress, BJP demand CM Pinarayi's resignation

Responding to the Opposition, Kerala law minister AK Balan said Jaleel had not been arraigned as an accused, and that NIA's interrogation was to 'seek information' as per protocol

Press Trust of India September 17, 2020 17:25:12 IST
NIA questions Kerala minister KT Jaleel in gold smuggling case; Congress, BJP demand CM Pinarayi's resignation

File Images of Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. PTI

Kochi/Thiruvananthapuram: The National Investigation Agency (NIA) probing the terror link of the gold smuggling case in Kerala on Thursday grilled state higher education minister KT Jaleel who is facing allegations of accepting consignments of the Holy Quran brought from UAE through diplomatic channel, violating FCRA norms.

Jaleel reached the NIA office at around 6 am in a private car after being summoned by the agency, nearly a week after he was interrogated by the Enforcement Directorate in connection with the acceptance of the consignments.

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.

Protests erupted across the state by Opposition parties including the Congress and the BJP seeking resignation of the Pinarayi Vijayan-led government, while Jaleel was being interrogated at the NIA office.

Several activists of the Congress, the BJP, and the Muslim League were injured in police action against participants of protest marches organised separately by these parties in various district headquarters, seeking the resignation of the chief minister.

MLA VT Balaram, who was injured in police lathicharge against the Congress workers in Palakkad, alleged that the police action was without any provocation and demanded an enquiry.

"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 told PTI.

The NIA office premises also witnessed separate protests by activists belonging to youth wings of the Congress and the BJP.

As the Opposition sharpened its attack against the ruling LDF, the leadership of the CPM rallied behind the embattled minister, saying "seeking information" was part of the procedure of investigation and there was no need for anyone to resign.

Leader of Opposition in the Kerala Assembly, Ramesh Chennithala said the government should resign and face elections.

In response, state law minister and senior CPM leader AK Balan said "seeking information" was part of the procedure of investigation.

"The NIA normally questions someone for a scheduled crime. At least now, the Chief Minister should seek the resignation of Jaleel. 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.

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.

"It's just part of the procedure that the investigating agency seeks information on the matters. There is no need for anyone to resign just because some allegations were raised. If he (Jaleel) is arraigned as an accused, then there is a sense in demanding the resignation but now there is no need for it...," Balan said.

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 at a press conference.

Last week, Jaleel had appeared before the ED here and his statement was recorded.

The minister had earlier admitted that a consignment containing Holy Quran had been received from the UAE Consulate in Thiruvananthapuram which a top Customs official had referred to as "prima facie violation of FCRA" (Foreign Contribution Regulation Act).

After the media reported about his interrogation by the ED, the minister had later posted on Facebook: "Truth will prevail. Only the truth. Even if the whole world opposes it, nothing else will happen."

Officials had said Jaleel is under the scanner of the central agencies after he publicly claimed that the consignments brought to Thiruvananthapuram during Ramzan month contained Holy Quran for distribution in his constituency.

Earlier, the call records of Swapna Suresh, a prime accused in the gold smuggling case, had revealed that Jaleel was in touch with her.

Suresh's call records had revealed that she and the minister had spoken over the phone nine times between 1 and 26 June.

The minister had said that these calls were strictly professional as Suresh was working with the consulate of the UAE in Thiruvananthapuram.

He had said calls were made after the Consulate General assigned Suresh to coordinate the distribution of food kits.

Jaleel had also released screenshots of his conversation with the Consulate General on the matter.

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