KT Jaleel appears before NIA team

Kerala Minister K.T. Jaleel on Thursday appeared before the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in Kochi, which is probing the recent gold smuggling case.

His appearance before the NIA is likely to spell more trouble for the LDF government in the run-up to the local body polls in October and assembly polls mid-2021.

The Opposition parties have been staging protests across the state calling for Jaleel’s resignation since he was summoned by the Enforcement Directorate on Sunday.

Jaleel is Minister for Higher Education, Welfare of Minorities, Wakf and Hajj in the LDF-led government. He has not been named in the gold smuggling case so far, but has been in the dock for allegedly in violating protocols while accepting religious books and flood-relief kits from the United Arab Emirates Consulate in Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram.

These goods reportedly came through the diplomatic baggage route, which is now under probe for being used as a cover to smuggle gold. The smuggling case came into light on 5 July after the seizure of about 30 kg gold from a diplomatic consignment. Jaleel was also found to be in touch in the gold smuggling accused Swapna Suresh, a former Executive Secretary at the UAE Consulate-General’s office, although he had claimed it to be in her official capacity.

Jaleel had received strong backing from the party and Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who refuted demands for his resignation. There was no precedent of a person resigning on the basis of questioning by an agency, Vijayan said on Monday. “The agency has received some complaints and they wanted certain clarifications from the minister,” he said. On Tuesday, Vijayan also launched a political attack on the opposition, for politicising the reception of religious books and flood-relief kits. The Opposition is trying to mix two unrelated issues, namely the acceptance of Quran books and the gold smuggling incident, for political gains, he said.

“A probe agency questioning a minister is nothing unusual. Opposition parties are targeting Jaleel due to political reasons. It is sad a smokescreen is being created over holy books. The BJP may have reasons for it, but it is sad that the Muslim League and Congress are also supporting it,” said Vijayan.

Jaleel had refused to call a press conference and explain himself to the media after the ED questioning. In a Facebook post on 14 September, he said that he was not interested to reveal the facts to those who have been ‘spreading lies and fabricated stories every day without any prick of consciousness’.

Later, in an interview with The Hindu newspaper, he said: “They sought to know about the distribution of Korans made available by the UAE consulate and whether I accepted any gift or money from them. I did not take any favours from them and no financial transactions were involved in the distribution of Ramzan kits or Koran. My hands are clean.”

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