Dubai: Swapna Suresh calls herself a simple working girl caught up in the most extraordinary circumstances. Someone who has only tried to do what’s best for her family.
And now, she says she’s a pawn that people in power in the southern Indian state of Kerala have cast aside.
For someone who is just trying to get by, Swapna Suresh sure knows how to evade the best law enforcement agencies in India… for a good one week and counting. Clearly, Swapna has taken a few lessons from Bonnie (of US highway robbers Bonnie and Clyde fame) in evading the long arms of law.
She is a suspect in multiple instances of gold getting smuggled into Kerala. The case shot up into national prominence after 30kg of gold was seized at the Thiruvananthapuram International Airport in a baggage meant for the UAE consul general in Kerala.
Right now, Swapna - who was born in Abu Dhabi and did her schooling in the UAE - is the second-most wanted person in a case that is being investigated for the ease with which gold was smuggled in, her connections that made it possible for her to get away with it for so long, and whether any of the gold or the funds related to it have been used to finance terror activities in India.
On Friday, federal investigative agencies submitted before a court that Swapna was indeed a link in a long chain of smuggling-related activities that have undermined the authority of the Indian state.
This is where Swapna’s description of herself as a working girl - sent in a voice clip to media organisations on Thursday - starts to look a bit thin.
Seven days on, investigative agencies are no closer to pinpointing where she might be hiding, Swapna’s been completely off the grid, not even letting traffic cameras get a snap of her getaway moves. (That in itself takes some doing for someone who loved being the centre of attention in recent years and whose pictures from sundry parties and social events are causing a whole lot of headache for Kerala’s politicians and bureaucrats.)
And all this while, most of Kerala was under strict lockdown measures as the number of COVID-19 cases shot up in recent weeks. So, what next in the Swapna saga?
A senior police officer in Kerala reckons only the coronavirus can “slow down” Swapna. He was only half-joking when he said this.
“There are three options open to the investigative agencies: Try and capture Swapna at the earliest or hope that she voluntarily surrenders at the nearest customs office,” he said. “A third option would be, with all that running around, Swapna might have exposed herself to the COVID-19 and will be in need of immediate treatment.
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“The way I see it, the chances of the third option are much more likely,” he added.
For the record, Kerala state police have been kept at a distance in these investigations - all of the heavy action is being directly managed by the customs authorities and the National Investigation Agency (NIA), which oversees all investigations into potential terror-related activity.
The scepticism about Kerala Police and its efficiency is not misplaced - it’s still investigating a fatal hit-and-run that happened 12 months ago and which involved a top state bureaucrat who was “supposedly” driving the car at the time. None of the traffic cameras on that particular street - one of the most prominent in the state capital Thiruvananthapuram - were working at the time.
For a state that is trying to cast itself as India’s next IT destination-in-the-making, faulty traffic cameras are just a way of life!
“Kerala Police is being kept at arm’s length by the central agencies on concerns that the investigation will be compromised,” said a senior bureaucrat Gulf News spoke to. “Because the investigation’s mandate also covers whether top-secret information sent to the chief minister’s office in the past were leaked.”
Swapna’s transition into a ‘national’ threat
How did this former schoolgirl from Abu Dhabi become one of India’s most wanted in just a week? Because the moment NIA stepped into the picture, this stopped being a simple case of a failed gold smuggling attempt.
A resident of Dubai who knew Swapna from a decade ago isn’t too shocked over how life has turned around her.
“She rented a room in my house in Karama for around a year I think, sometime in 2007-2008,” says the resident, who prefers to maintain her anonymity. “She didn't have any problems with money - I still wonder why she had to stay in a shared accommodation when I have seen her shelling out lots of it. She mentioned she was working with an international airline. She was so fluent in Arabic, and I was quite surprised when I heard her speak the first time.
“She used to always get chocolates and stuff for my son - initially, I fell for her sweetness. Then she tried to create problems in my family. I had to call the police. They came to our house and she was asked to vacate, which she did the next morning itself.
“But this is exactly what she is doing now - trying to blame everyone else and telling she is not involved in it.”
And yet, Swapna’s former landlord still finds the fact that she is now at the centre of a controversy with wide ramifications - even possibly influencing the next elections in Kerala - a bit difficult to digest.
“I never expected I will get to see her like this after these many years. Swapna’s want for fame, money and to be in the limelight ended her on the wrong path.”
And at odds with Swapna’s own description of her plain-vanilla working life - and that she was just following whatever instructions that were given to her.
The voice clip also talks about how much more she could have earned if she continued working in the UAE.
That’s high confidence from someone who barely cleared her school exams. High on confidence was always a virtue for Swapna.
“She would call up some of the most senior bureaucrats in Kerala … and they would instantly do whatever she wanted,” said a senior IAE official attached with the Kerala government. “She always gave off an impression that she knew people who mattered.”
Right now, those very people would be hoping that Swapna would stop dropping names … as and when the law catches up with her. Because careers and political futures could be undone by what she says.
This working girl is just not going to go away quietly.