The customs department, which tracks and penalises unlawful ferrying of gold at airports, is facing an embarrassing situation — a rising number of cases have come to light this year of the yellow metal disappearing from its own vaults.
During April-October 2016 — the first seven months of this financial year — a total of 67.4 kg of gold has been deemed to have disappeared at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA) itself.
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A total of 47 cases in IGIA are being investigated during these seven months (see box, page 2), the highest in the last four years and cumulatively higher than the number of cases reported over the last three years, according to officials involved in the exercise.
The vaults of the Customs department come under the Ministry of Finance’s Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC). Over the last three years, around 130 kg of gold has been “misplaced” from Customs vaults in key airports and cities.
In most cases, the confiscated gold is replaced with imitation or fake metal, which surfaces in routine audits done by the department. The increasing cases of pilferage within the Customs vaults comes at a time when the government is working on a slew of measures to clamp down on black money.
In 2015-16, the IGIA airport recorded five cases of disappearance of 11.26 kg gold from Customs vaults, as against one case of 1.51 kg gold in 2014-15.
The trend is not just restricted to Delhi, with the Customs vault at Trichy recording a case of missing gold amounting to 39.82 kg. In this case, the gold had been substituted with imitation metal and pilferage is being suspected to have taken place with insider help. The Customs has lodged complaints with the Central Board of Investigation (CBI) and an enquiry is underway.
Asked about the missing gold at Customs vaults, senior department officials said the numbers are showing an increase because more such cases are being detected.
“There is an ongoing investigation involving CBEC and CBI officials on the issue of gold disappearance from Customs vaults at airports. The number of such cases has also shown an increase due to higher detection as well as settlement of some cases, which were stuck in litigation,” said a senior official of the Customs department’s Revenue Intelligence & Investigation wing.
Earlier this year, an FIR was registered by Delhi Police on the complaint of Customs officials who said that two gold chains and bangles, together weighing 298 gms and valued at about Rs 8.83 lakh, were replaced with yellow-coloured non-precious metal.
The incident came to light when packets containing 1.27 kg gold, including the stolen gold chains and bangles, sealed at the instance of a court, were opened by Customs officials before a departmental committee as part of inventorisation proceedings.