Thiruvananthapuram: Criminal lawyer Biju Damodaran, identified as the kingpin of the gold smuggling racket in the capital city and who is now on the run, has been described as a skirt-chaser who befriends financially vulnerable women and lures them into operating as 'gold carriers'.
A top official of Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI), which is probing the airport-based smuggling operations, said that 40-odd women who are part of Biju's smuggling syndicate have been identified and a few were questioned. All of them had gone to Dubai and returned with gold bars at least twice since last November. The DRI estimate is that Biju's gang alone had smuggled 200 kg of gold through the Thiruvananthapuram International Airport in the last six months since last November.
Biju had also forced his wife Vineetha, on the threat of divorce, to function as a carrier. Vineetha, who had admitted to being a carrier four times, is now in the custody of the DRI. “We tried to locate Biju using the mobile number Vineetha had given us but it has been switched off. His right-hand man Vishnu is also absconding,” the DRI sleuth said.
It is said that Biju, who has a fairly reasonable standing as a criminal lawyer in the capital, had a knack for spotting vulnerable women. “He would pitch his proposal to those he thought were easily influenced. He gave these women a seemingly attractive offer. Free ticket to Dubai, free stay in a luxurious place in the city for one or two days and then a free return ticket. But all of this in return for transporting some bars of gold, mostly 15 to 20 kgs, from Dubai to Thiruvananthapuram,” the source said.
Biju will also pay them Rs 10,000, which in truth is a pittance. Biju and his racket would make a profit of at least Rs 4 lakh per kg of gold. “The women we talked to were happy with the arrangement. Some of them got the chance to visit Dubai, that too for free, for the first time in their lives,” the source said. These women were either married or single, and included both professionals and housewives. “What is common to all these women are their financial distress,” the source said.
The DRI sleuths said Biju was careful only to recruit women from Thiruvananthapuram or Kollam. “If women from Malabar area were to land in Thiruvananthapuram often, we will subject their profile to some detailed check. To avoid this, he used women from Thiruvannthapuram and nearby areas,” the source said.
The DRI sleuths are also trying to find out more about Serina's connection to Biju's racket. Serina was arrested along with Sunil Kumar for attempting to smuggle 25 kg of gold worth Rs 8 crore out of the Thiruvananthapuram International Airport on May 14.
“She runs a beauty parlour in Dubai and we also suspect that she runs an escort service there. The women Biju sends to Dubai could have been used for escort services,” the source said. Nonetheless, the DRI is yet to get clinching evidence of this.
There are men, too, in the gang. “Though the women leave for Dubai in a team of four or five they return separately and individually. When they return they will be accompanied by a male. Either the male or the female will have close contacts within the airport,” the DRI source said.
But to unravel the larger network, Biju has to be nabbed first. “The women we had talked to, even his wife Vineetha, seems to have no idea about Biju's contacts nor where he takes the gold,” he added.