Over 140 kilograms of ‘illegal’ gold was seized by the Customs department in 19 months from the international airports of Ahmedabad and Surat where a total of 207 cases of smuggling were filed during the period, indicating a racket functioning out of Ahmedabad and Rajkot, according to Customs officials.
After an illegal shipment of 24 kilograms of gold was intercepted at Ahmedabad airport in June 2019, the department is working to unearth a gold smuggling racket where 4,000 kg of gold worth Rs 1,400 crore is believed to have been smuggled into India over five years, of which 1,800 kg was meant for Rajkot alone.
“Of the 4,000 kilograms of gold which we suspected to have been smuggled, we have got evidence that 1800 kilogram would have gone only to Rajkot,” said Kumar Santosh, Principal Commissioner, Customs, Ahmedabad, on Monday.
This financial year alone, the seized gold were found hidden in human body parts including rectum, in 67 per cent of the total cases, say officials who suspect involvement of jewellers from Ahmedabad and Rajkot.
“The Ahmedabad Customs has booked 60 cases of gold smuggling and seized 54.72 kilograms of gold valued at Rs 16.64 crore in the current financial year 2019-20. An additional 14 cases of smuggling was registered at Surat airport where 6.5 kilograms of gold worth Rs 2.15 crore was seized,” said Kumar Santosh, Principal Commi-ssioner, Customs Ahmedabad. In 2018, in 133 cases, a total of 81.41 kilograms of gold worth Rs 23.75 crore was seized from those flying into the state.
“This smuggling is part of an organised syndicate where jewellers are not directly involved. Those caught are only the carriers… We suspect involvement of at least 2-3 jewellers from Ahmedabad and 5-6 jewellers from Rajkot in this gold smuggling racket. Financiers from Delhi, Mumbai or other cities fund this. In many cases, the carriers who are caught only know mobile numbers,” Santosh added.
This year, a total of 26 persons were arrested, including one from Surat airport. This includes a Delhi-based accused who was booked for smuggling three kilograms of gold in a Spice Jet flight from Bangkok on November 9, 2019. The department which has taken the accused on remand till November 13 and is now suspecting the involvement of officials from the airline of employees and Airports Authority of India (AAI), where the gold was found hidden in a cavity under the accused’s seat.
A lot passengers from whom smuggled gold has been seized have brought the gold in form of “paste”, officials said adding that this gold in paste form in hidden in undergarments (one such case reported last month in Ahmedabad), behind knee, concealed in trolley suitcases and concealed in their rectum.
“In more than 7-8 cases, where smuggled gold was recovered from rectum, the gold was found in solid and paste form,” the IRS officer said. “Those carrying gold worth less than Rs 20 lakh are not arrested (as per the rules). As this is an organised syndicate, most of them ensure the carriers do not carry gold valuing more than Rs 20 lakh,” Santosh said explaining the low number of arrests. Those carrying smuggled gold below Rs 20 lakh are detained and penalised. “Of the total 26 persons arrested this year, four are women,” he added.
The official said that the Customs department has booked the maximum cases this year involving passengers travelling from Dubai. “Next important destinations are Bangkok, Sharjah, Kuwait and Oman,” he said adding that Ahmedabad is among the top five destinations in the country where gold is smuggled in large quantities. Under the present laws, a female traveller is allowed to carry 20 grams of gold without any customs duty, while a male travellers is allowed to carry 10 grams of gold. Regarding the 24 kilograms of gold caught at Ahmedabad airport in June 2019, the official said, “This is a big case and it is under the consideration of the Central government and so I will not talk about it. Rutunga Trivedi, from Rajkot has been arrested in this case and is in jail. Rajkot is becoming a big centre which is encouraging gold smuggling,” Santosh said.
“Of the 4,000 kilograms of gold, which is suspected to have been smuggled, we got evidence that 1,800 kilograms would have gone only to Rajkot. The investigation is on. It is confirmed that 1,800 kilograms of gold went to Rajkot, based on which we arrested Rutunga Trivedi… he has been in jail for two months,” he said adding six more persons have been arrested in the case that happened in June 2019.
He said that the spike in customs duty has also led to the increase in gold smuggling. The customs official said that more number of officers have been posted at the airports in Ahmedabad and Surat to check gold smuggling.