EVEN AS Kolkata airport officials seized 11 gold bars concealed in a trolley on Thursday, since June, the Customs department has seized 7 kg and 950 gm of gold — worth Rs 2,44,76,900 — from the NSCBI Airport.
The spurt in gold smuggling coincides with the onset of the festive season leading up to Dussehra and Diwali next month, sources said. Officials said while in the past, gold smuggling was usually carried out by well-organised gangs, airport authorities have now noticed an increasing trend of individual smugglers trying to ferry gold to Kolkata from Dubai and Bangkok.
“Our officers have started looking for individual passengers who exhibit suspicious behavior. These individuals do not carry huge amounts of gold, and are mostly women,” said Umesh Kumar, Deputy Commissioner of Customs in Air Intelligence Unit.
“We have increased vigilance in the airport because festival season is approaching. We have the Advanced Passenger Information System in place to scrutinise the background of passengers,” said an official. The method to smuggle gold has diversified in the recent past. Smuggling gold to India through the porous Indo-Myanmar border is currently the most popular among smugglers, sources said. Last month, the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence had arrested 12 people and seized gold worth over Rs 18 crore from Kolkata. As many as 58 kg of gold biscuits and bars were smuggled into the country from Myanmar, said officials.
“Big groups hire carriers or even take help from airlines staff to smuggle gold. On many occasions, gold has been recovered from the wash basins of airport restrooms. Now, instead of smuggling a huge quantity at a time, they smuggle in installments,” said an official. The modus operandi has also changed, said officials. While in the past, gold would be carried in the mouth or rectum, it is now melted in jeans, toothpicks and purse straps among others, and is often coloured to escape detection.
“Gold is mainly smuggled to Kolkata from Dubai and Bangkok. As per our intelligence inputs, there are specific shops in Dubai and Bangkok which facilitate the sale of smuggled gold,” said an official. Sources said smugglers easily earn around Rs 5 lakh by selling 1 kg of gold in Kolkata, and Kidderpore area in the city has emerged as the biggest supplier of those who ferry gold.
The major smuggling gangs reportedly have a significant network in the north-east, and many of those arrested hail from Champanagar (Myanmar) border in Mizoram. Youth from Ulhasnagar and Nasik in Maharastra, Firozepur and Patiala in Punjab and Gorakhpur in UP are also prime targets of such gangs. Sources said the gangs mostly target the unemployed and offer them around Rs 10,000 per trip.
“The ratio is 50:50 when it comes to hired carriers and individual smugglers who sell on their own. Many individuals smuggle gold from abroad and sell it to jewellers in Burrabazar in central Kolkata,” the official said. “In many cases, women are groomed to become smugglers in return for clothes, foreign trips and cash,” the official claimed.