GOLD SMUGGLING cases have shot up at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (CSIA) in 2017, after an initial post-demonetisation slump, with average monthly seizure of gold by the Air Intelligence Unit (AIU) almost doubling in February. The AIU has also discovered various new methods of smuggling contraband without customs detecting it.
“Our average monthly seizure used to be 12-15 kg of gold, which usually included cases of smuggling in small quantities of gold at an individual level. However, we have seen a sudden rise in the number of cases of gold smuggling in 2017, after a slowdown in November and December post-demonetisation,” said Pradnya-sheel Jumle, deputy commissioner of AIU at CSIA, adding: “In November and December, the average seizure had come down to 2.5 kg per month. But January saw a sharp increase and we seized 19 kg gold. The number almost doubled in February when 33 kg of gold was seized.”
This month, the AIU has already seized 23 kg of gold. There was one of the biggest cases of gold smuggling involving foreign nationals in the recent past in which six Chinese nationals were intercepted carrying 6.176 kg of gold on March 15.
According to the AIU, gold smuggling has seen a shift from an individual level to gang-level operations. Apart from the carrier, a receiver waiting outside the airport as well as another person at a different handover point are usually involved in the operation.
“Gangs have also been using deep concealment to avoid customs. January and the first week of February saw a lot of cases of deep concealment of gold inside electronic items such as speakers. It is difficult to detect gold separately as it is hard to differentiate between internal parts of the electronic items on the screening machine,” the officer said.
However, once the authorities were alerted, the method of deep concealment for smuggling gold has gone down. “More cases of on-person smuggling are being detected. Passengers wear crude gold in the form of chains, necklace, bracelets and belt buckles to hide them. And since the customs area is very busy, it becomes difficult to check every person,” the officer said.
There has also been an increase in the involvement of foreign nationals. Apart from the Chinese nationals held at the CSIA, there were Iranians and Afghans who were caught smuggling contraband at other airports. According to the AIU, an Iranian couple was intercepted at Ahmedabad airport on March 17 and over 6 kg of gold valued at Rs 1,36,35,053 was recovered.
“It is harder to intercept foreign nationals on the basis of profiling. We look for certain patterns in travel habits in Indian nationals to profile them and intercept them for personal search. Usually, the passengers are arriving from the Gulf region and are residents of Kerala and Karnataka. They travel mostly with hand baggage (only). Their stays abroad are also comparatively short. They are also usually frequent travellers. We look for these details to intercept a passenger based on profiling,” said the AIU official.
According to the AIU, many of the foreign nationals arriving with contraband are first time visitors. “Four of the six Chinese nationals intercepted on March 15 were first time visitors to India,” said the official. Two more Chinese nationals were intercepted the following day. The AIU believes the eight belong to a gang. The accused have denied this. They have been advised not to leave India and have been called in for questioning by the AIU on March 20.