The decision of the Ministry of Home Affairs to assign the probe pertaining to the seizure of 30 kg of gold from a diplomatic cargo meant for the UAE Consulate to the National Investigation Agency is a significant development in the state’s long history of gold smuggling from the Middle East. Tonnes of gold have been smuggled into Kerala over the years, finding their way into jewellery showrooms as finished ornaments, evading import duties and other taxes in the entire course of journey. The Customs and DRI have seized gold and arrested carriers, but the big sharks who run the international trade have seldom been brought to book.
How big is the gold smuggling into Kerala?
According to Customs sources, the Customs and DRI seized 550 kg of smuggled gold in Kerala in 2019-20. This was an all-time record, even though the amount itself would just be a small portion of the actual gold smuggled into the state. Still, this was 15 per cent of all the smuggled gold seized in India, sources said. In 2018-19, 401 kg of gold was seized in the state.
Why is there demand for smuggled gold?
As per the present market value of gold in India, 1 kg of the smuggled yellow metal would fetch a profit of Rs 5 lakh on import duty alone. The tax evasion would continue till the smuggled gold lands in jewellery showrooms as ornaments, thus enabling the dealers to make huge profits.
What is the modus operandi of the smugglers?
The modus operandi hasn’t changed much over the years. Customs sources revealed that the carriers, who are usually the people arrested, never give out their links in Kerala or the Gulf countries. “Once a passenger is identified as a gold carrier and consignment is concealed in his or her body or baggage, the gangs would share their photographs to sources waiting outside the airports or fixed places to take away the smuggled gold,” the source explained.
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So the carriers would be in the dark about the person in Kerala who the consignment is meant for and it is up to the person waiting to receive the gold to identify the carrier based on his or her photograph. “So, even if we nab a carrier, he would not be able divulge about the person waiting to take away the gold let alone the end beneficiary of the smuggled gold. Once the carrier is caught with gold, the next chains in the racket vanish,” the source said, adding how this has helped the big kingpins remain safe.
The sources said the smugglers have also deployed celebrities and film personalities to carry the smuggled gold from one centre to another.
Why has the Customs not been able to cap the smuggling of gold?
One big hurdle for Indian Customs authorities is their limitations in investigate in the Middle East. On several occasions, the agencies have issued lookout circular against the key players in the smuggling. But even when these are live, many suspects reach Kerala after crossing the India-Nepal border by road after landing in Kathmandu airport.
The lax immigration and border checking at border crossing make it a safer entry point for these players compared to the strict vigil maintained at Kerala airports. After entering India from Nepal, they can reach Kerala by train or road without being noticed by the law enforcing agencies, sources said.
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