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THE DIRECTORATE of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) Saturday arrested a real estate agent outside the Air Cargo Complex for allegedly smuggling gold and iridium through Hong Kong. According to DRI sources, the agency arrested Bala Murugan Pillai after it intercepted a cargo consignment, marked machine parts and crankshaft, carrying at least five kg of gold and 1.5 kg of powdered iridium.
“The goods, declared as machine parts and crankshaft, had landed in Air Cargo Complex, Mumbai, from Hong Kong via Colombo via Srilankan Airlines’ flight UL141. We have found that the three hollow cylindrical pistons inside the consignment where filled with foreign marked gold bars,” said a DRI official. The total value of the ‘smuggled’ gold and iridium is about Rs 1.7 crore, added the sources. Typically, iridium is a solvent added to gold, as impurity. There is no restriction on import of iridium in India. In this case, the DRI suspects that the iridium was brought along with gold at the behest of some city jewellers. The DRI is also scanning the Srilankan Airlines’ data from the last one year, to check if such consignments had been cleared in the past.
Pillai, who was apprehended while he was allegedly waiting to receive the gold, has admitted to at least 50 clearances in the past six months using the same modus operandi. Sources close to the probe said Pillai has earned Rs 20 lakh as commission from gold smuggling in this period. Pillai has been remanded in custody. “We have found that some of the staff with security access to the Air Cargo Complex used to identify the package and remove the gold/iridium from it and hand it over to Pillai for a monetary consideration. Pillai was just an intermediary and used to get Rs 40,000 per consignment,” said a DRI official.
The DRI is now probing the role of the ground staff of the cargo complex in the smuggling. Clearance of goods at the complex is handled by Mumbai International Airport Ltd (MIAL). This is not the first time that ground staff at airports and cargo complexes have been found involved in gold smuggling. Earlier this month, a senior employee of a private airline was arrested with four kg smuggled gold worth Rs 1.2 crore at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport. Smuggling of gold remains a lucrative business due to high profit margins, said officials.
According to intelligence agencies, the average price difference of gold between the London Metal Exchange and Mumbai is around Rs 3.8 lakh per kg. The agencies have estimated that on an average, a smuggler makes a profit of Rs 90,000 to Rs 1.1 lakh per kg of smuggled gold after deducting a hawala cost of Rs 10,000, premium of another Rs 10,000 and transportation cost of Rs 2.5-2.7 lakh per kg, including carrier charges, tickets and other expenses incurred by operators.