The Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) sleuths have pieced together a dark tale of psychological torture from the three arrests made in the wake of the confiscation of 25kg of gold worth Rs 8 crore at the Thiruvananthapuram international airport.
A day after nabbing Sunil Kumar, who was the carrier, and Serina, who runs a beauty parlour in Dubai and whom the DRI officials say was Sunil's 'minder', just when they landed in the Oman Air flight on May 14, the DRI officials made a crucial arrest. A woman lawyer by the name Vineetha.
She is the wife of Biju Manoharan, also a lawyer, and whom the DRI believes is the kingpin of the racket. The DRI believes that it is Biju who collects the smuggled gold and distributes it among jewellers and other informal gold dealers in the capital city. Biju is now on the run, and a special DRI team is after him.
A top DRI official said that Vineetha was a “reluctant partner” in the crime. Like Sunil, Vineetha too is a carrier recruited by Biju. She has reportedly admitted that she had transported gold illegally through the Thiruvananthauram airport four times in the past five months.
“She has confessed that she had been a carrier. But during her interrogation she said she was in it fearing her husband. Biju had apparently threatened to divorce her if she was not willing to be an accomplice. The marriage is already on the verge of a divorce but Vineetha somehow wants it to work. Perhaps it could be her two children,” the DRI official said.
The DRI official also feels that it is slightly more complicated than a mother wanting to keep her flock together. The DRI sleuths had visited the Kazhakuttam house of the couple. “It is a well-endowed posh house, not wanting in any material comforts. It is clear that small-time lawyers cannot afford such a lifestyle,” the source said, and added: “Maybe she gave in to her husband's demands because she wanted to sustain this princely lifestyle,” the source said.
Prima facie, it looks like Biju Manoharan's operations began quite recently, in last November. “It looks like he had struck up a working relationship with Serina to purchase gold from Dubai and transport them to Thiruvananthapuram using carriers picked by Biju himself. Our feeling is that he must have recruited many middle-aged men steeped in debt like Sunil Kumar to do the job for him,” the DRI official said. Sunil was a KSRTC conductor who had got his job under the compassionate dying in harness scheme.
Sunil Kumar himself had smuggled gold five times. It is said that the carriers leave for Dubai as a team of four or five, and then return individually with their 'minders', like Serina for instance. “Serina travels with Sunil to make sure that he hands over the booty to the right person. On May 14 it seemed they were so confident that they would not be caught that they did not even bother to make a secret space in the baggage to hide the gold,” the source said.
It was also highly likely that in the moment the DRI sleuths swooped down on Sunil and Serina there could have been other carriers and their minders who would have casually escaped the DRI's radar and walked out of the airport with the treasure.
“Our estimate is that Biju's team must have smuggled in at least 200 kg of gold through the Thiruvananthapuram airport since November last,” he added. The only seizure that the DRI could manage was the 25kg found stashed inside the bag of Sunil Kumar on May 14. However, a more detailed picture will emerge only after the arrest of Biju Manoharan.
Usually, carriers smuggle gold by hiding it in secret pouches specially created inside the bag. “In most cases, they hand over the bag to their contact while they are being ferried to the airport lounge from the aircraft. Otherwise, they deposit the bags in any of the four toilets inside the lounge from where their contact would later pick it up. This time we caught Sunil and Serina right when they got down from the plane,” the source said.