Striking gold at Chandigarh Airport: Increasing number of flights and smuggling cases

With the number of international flights reaching three, lately there has been a spike in such incidents

Written by Adil Akhzer | Chandigarh | Published: March 26, 2018 5:59:02 am
chandigarh international airport, gold smuggling, airport smuggling, indian express Chandigarh International Airport. (Express photo)

After Chandigarh International airport started its international operations in September 2016, initially only few incidents of gold smuggling incident were witnessed. With the number of international flights reaching three, lately there has been a spike in such incidents. Customs department has now decided to install an Advance Passenger Information System (APIS) system at the airport to improve their chances of intercepting gold.

Why is there a sudden rise in number of gold smuggling incidents at the Chandigarh International Airport?

According to Customs Department officials those smuggling gold into India are of the impression that since this is a new airport having international flight connectivity, it would be easier for them to evade detection. The officers, however, add that since there are 13 international flights landing at the airport per week, the detection levels are also high. The officers attribute rise in number of incidents to their better detection skills and ease in scanning the limited number of passengers arriving on these flights.

How many incidents of gold smuggling detected this month?

There has been six gold smuggling incidents detected in March at Chandigarh airport this year. Chandigarh has only three international flights to and from Bangkok, Dubai and Sharjah. Custom officials say since international flight operations started in September 2016, over 25kg of gold have seized so far.

Who are these passengers who attempt to smuggle gold?

In most of the cases, passengers are the ‘couriers’, which means that the gold is meant for the third person and they are merely being used. Customs department’s investigations into the smuggling cases reveal that gangs operating in Dubai and Bangkok entice youngsters from the region to work for them and in return the ‘couriers’ are paid a percentage based on the amount of gold being carried by them. Such smugglers also allegedly sponsor the entire trip of the ‘courier’. These ‘couriers’ are mostly students or small-time traders.

What is the modus operandi adopted?

Different methods are adopted to smuggle gold and to evade security checks. In majority of the cases, gold is brought by hiding the contraband in the body parts. In one of such cases, Customs department has seized the contraband from a passenger who had hidden 2.92 kg gold in the vacuum cleaner. In another case, two Thai nationals were found smuggling 877 grams of gold in the shape of nickle-coated shirt buttons.

How are they caught at the Chandigarh Airport?

Soon after arriving at the airport, a passenger has to either pass through red channel or green. (Red if you are carrying any restricted item and green if you are not carrying any restricted item. In most of the cases, the passengers who are caught at the airport attempted to cross through green channel and the Customs department officials question such passengers on the basis of ‘suspicious behaviour’). In a few cases, detected at Chandigarh International Airport, the customs department did have prior intelligence inputs about the smuggling attempts.

How much gold can a passenger carry once he/she arrives at the airport from abroad?

As per rules, if a passenger is arriving from an international destination after six months, men can carry 20 grams of gold and women can carry 40 grams of gold with them. But it has to be in the form of ornaments. A passenger attempting to smuggle gold can be arrested at the airport if the cost of the gold recovered from his/her possession is more than Rs 20 lakh. If the quantity of gold is lesser than that, senior level custom officers at the airport can also let the passenger take away the gold by imposing a penalty, in case they find that the passenger was carrying gold for his personal use and was bringing in higher quantity to avoid custom duty or variation in prices.

How is the gold released, once seized at the Airport?

Custom department officials said that after the seizure, a show cause notice is given to the passenger from whom the gold is seized. At Chandigarh Airport, officials say there has been less response to the showcause notices from the “couriers” who were found smuggling gold. A customs official said that in case where adjudication is decided by the authority, a huge penalty is imposed on the smuggled gold.

What is the Customs department doing to detect more such incidents ?

In order to improve the interception, the customs department have now decided to introduce advance passenger information system (APIS) at the airport. The system will help the Customs department to have prior information about the passengers, their travel itinerary and history based on which they can mark the passengers who need to be checked at the time of their arrival.

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