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Kochi, Feb 15 – In a setback for Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) arrested his former principal secretary, M. Sivasankar in connection with a Prevention of Money Laundering case pertaining to alleged fund irregularities in Kerala flood relief.
Sivasankar was arrested on Tuesday night, and the ED is expected to seek his custody when he is produced before a court here later in the day.
He superannuated from service on January 31.
The arrest was made after a two-day intense questioning that began on Monday. The arrest is related to the ongoing probe in Vijayan’s pet project, ‘Life Mission’ in which a huge sum of over Rs four crore was allegedly paid as commission to get the contract, which was admitted by the builder, Santhosh Eapen to the CBI after he was arrested.
Sivasankar during the first Vijayan government 2016-21 was the final word in all matters where the CM was closely involved, and this case involves the alleged violation of foreign contribution regulations in the Kerala government’s flagship project. The project intended to provide homes to the poor who lost their houses in the devastating floods of 2018.
The project at Wadakkanchery in Trissur district then came under a cloud after the then sitting Congress legislator Anil Akkara approached the CBI alleging massive corruption.
Akkara on Wednesday expressed happiness over the arrest of Sivasankar and said the arrests should not stop here as this deal was done with the knowledge at the highest level.
Incidentally, this case surfaced after the gold smuggling case came to light in June 2020 in which Sivasankar was jailed.
Sivasankar was summoned after the ED recently completed a few rounds of questioning of Swapna Suresh, the prime accused in the gold smuggling case and interrogated her along with two other accused who are also accused in the gold smuggling case.
Both Swapna Suresh and Sarith, who were employed in the UAE Consulate, were later found to have a role in Life Mission funds misappropriation too.
Trouble began for Sivasankar when the probe located a locker in which cash to the tune of Rs one crore was found in a locker belonging to Swapna and a chartered accountant who was close to Sivasankar.
Swapna initially stated that this was the commission that she got, but later changed her position and said this money belonged to Sivasankar.
The ED in the three days of questioning Sivasankar failed to get any positive response to this statement, but the ED recorded his arrest based on evidence that they have collected.
Previously, the state government then had approached the Kerala High Court to stop the probe, but it dismissed the pleas and said that an ongoing CBI probe should continue in the case involving senior government officers and contractors.
The CBI had then taken a position that private company Unitac, carrying out the construction on behalf of a Kerala government body, did not get the contract through a tender.
The project entailed construction of 97 apartments and a health centre, and it was alleged that both the gold smuggling case accused held talks with Unitac and fixed a commission of 30 per cent of the project cost — 20 per cent to a UAE official and 10 per cent to Swapna Suresh and other co-accused for approvals and other file movements.
The CBI claimed that Sivasankar had met Unitac owner Santhosh Eapen at his chamber along with Swapna Suresh and assured full support.
The then Life Mission Chief Executive Officer U.V. Jose was also allegedly present at this meeting.