The Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) in Mumbai arrested five persons on Wednesday for their alleged involvement in an international smuggling racket involving cigarettes and spices.
Sources said the arrests have revealed how cartels are exploiting the porous Indo-Myanmar border to smuggle items ranging from gold, spices, betel nuts and cigarettes. In the last one year alone, goods worth Rs 100 crore have been seized by various agencies across the Indo-Myanmar border, they added.
“Gold is now the primary item smuggled through Myanmar. It is followed by betel nuts, spices and cigarettes. With the Indo-Myanmar border being porous, items are smuggled through Manipur and then smuggled to various parts of the country,” said an official.
The information on the new preferred routes was gathered by DRI officials when it tracked a cigarettes’ smuggling cartel operating between Dubai, Indonesia and India.
On Wednesday, the Mumbai DRI arrested five persons from Guwahati and seized contraband valued at Rs 6.09 crore. The arrests were made based on a lead that had emerged from another case cracked by the DRI in October, where another foreign cigarettes’ cartel, allegedly run by a custom official, was busted and seven persons arrested from Goa.
They included Mahesh Desai, an assistant commissioner attached with the Goa unit of GST; Jagannath Mestry, a superintendent with the unaccompanied baggage (UB) centre of the air cargo unit and an employee with the Central Warehousing Corporation (CWC). They are currently out on bail.
“The interrogation of the accused apprehended from Goa had revealed that these cigarettes originated from Indonesia. When we tracked the supplier, we found that the same supplier was also using the porous Indo-Myanmar route to smuggle foreign cigarettes and spices through Moreh in Manipur,” an official said.
“We had information that the contraband would travel by road via Guwahati to New Delhi. Based on this, DRI officers intercepted two trucks inside a godown premises at Guwahati and seized 32.04 lakh sticks of foreign cigarettes and 6,000 kg of foreign black pepper. The contraband and the two trucks, valued at Rs 6.09 crore, were seized and five persons arrested on Wednesday,” the official added.
Another official said, “In the past, Sri Lanka was a preferred route as the import duties is either nil or negligible… But in the past few years, cartels have discovered the Indo-Myanmar border route and with insurgency in Manipur, getting items into the country gets easier.”
On cigarette being a more lucrative item than gold, an official said: “The import duty on cigarettes is 200 per cent. Let’s suppose one of the five containers smuggled by the cartel is apprehended, they still make profit by getting the other four into the country. On the other hand, the margins in gold is around 20 per cent… even if one container is apprehended, the cartel is not even able to square off its expenses.”
The Goa module allegedly involved smuggling of foreign cigarettes, mostly Gudang Garam, through the air cargo complex in Dabolim airport. “Intelligence suggested that some officers would coordinate with smugglers and instruct them when they should load the cargo containing cigarettes from Dubai. Accordingly, the operators would get their cargo loaded and dispatch misdeclaring the same as “household goods” to be cleared from the UB section. However after this cargo would be unloaded, in connivance with CWC officials, it would be taken out of the air cargo complex via a tempo arranged by the smugglers. At the same time, another tempo containing household goods would depart from the godown of the smugglers. Both would meet at a predetermined place outside the airport and the cargo would be exchanged enroute to CWC at Sada, Goa,” said the official.
“The second tempo, carrying the contraband, would go to the godown. This was done with the connivance of the customs officers posted at air cargo complex as well as officials of the CWC and a ground handling company.”
While in the Goa case, the role of a Dubai-based Indian origin businessman is being probed, in Wednesday’s case, sleuths are trying to probe the source. “While in both cases, the cigarettes were sourced from the same supplier in Indonesia, we are probing if the two are linked and if the final beneficiary is the same. While in the first case, the consignment was meant from Goa, in the second, we suspect that the truck were travelling to Delhi,” the official said.