Thiruvananthapuram: The Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) uncovered 25 kg of gold in biscuit form worth Rs 8 crore in the baggage of a man who landed in Thiruvananthauram international airport in an Oman Air flight on Monday. This is the largest ever gold haul recorded in Thiruvananthapuram airport -- this beats the haul of 20 kg of gold recovered from a passenger named Faiz five years ago.
Accused Sunil is said to be a native of Thirumala in the outskirts of the capital city. He, along with a lady accomplice, is now being questioned by the DRI officials. “The gold was seized from the man. But there was a lady with him. We suspect her to be his accomplice. Both are now being interrogated,” a top DRI official told Onmanorama.
The man was intercepted even before he could reach the customs check. “We did not receive any tip but the man's movements were enough to arouse suspicion,” the official said. The DRI team knows that the man had not acted alone, that he is part of a larger network. The DRI is looking into the possibility of support from within the airport like staff or cabin crew.
Two weeks ago, an AC mechanic, functioning as contract staff in the airport, was found attempting to smuggle 8 kg of gold out of the airport. It is estimated that over 100 kg of gold is smuggled through the Thiruvananthapuram airport daily. “These carriers purchase gold from Dubai, evade import duty at the airport, and smuggle the booty out and sell it at a profit of at least Rs 4 lakh a kg in Kerala,” the DRI official said. The smuggled gold is mostly sold to jewellers in the city.
High customs duty, and the restriction on gold imports, seem to prompt the smugglers to take the risk. Only gold ornaments worth less than Rs 1 lakh can be imported duty-free into India. Beyond this, a passenger is allowed to carry only 1kg of gold for a moderate import duty of 10 per cent. Anything over this will invite an import duty of 36.5 per cent.
“Once the gold goes out of the airport, it is virtually impossible to take action. The gold from outside the country, mostly Dubai, will have the company trademark and essential identification numbers. But the moment it reaches their hands, the jewellers will melt it into unmarked plain bars or into other forms with no sign of the original trademark,” the official said.
Even DRI officials admit that the catch on Monday, though huge in relative terms, is still insignificant. “Over 100 kg of gold is smuggled out of the airport daily,” the DRI official said. “The airport staff and even the cabin crew could be nodes in a large smuggling network,” he said. Last year a cabin attendant of Ethiopian Airlines was found with 30 kg of gold in Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport.
The usual practice is for smugglers to hand over the booty to colluding airport staff before reaching the customs check. “There are at least four toilets before the customs check. They can hide the gold inside the corners of the toilets so that a friendly airport staff can pick it up later,” the official said.
There is also a feeling that Thiruvananthapuram airport is the most ideal for gold smugglers. For one, it is a small airport. But more importantly, unlike Kochi or Kozhikode, it is right in the heart of the city. What's more, the jewellers are right outside the airport. “They will not be obliged to travel long distances risking extortion rackets like in Kochi, to reach their destination,” the DRI source said.