Exploiting the Covid-19 situation and inability of Customs officials at airports to do thorough check of passengers, gold smugglers have turned special chartered flights bringing back expats from West Asia to Kerala into a lucrative channel, according to sources in the Customs department and Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI).
While Sunday’s seizure of 30 kg gold from a diplomatic cargo at Thiruvananthapuram airport hit national headlines, Customs Commissioner (Kochi) Sumit Kumar said they have so far seized two dozen cases from chartered flights returning with expats from Gulf countries in which 20 kg gold have been detected from four airports in the state handling evacuation flights.
Kumar pointed out that gold smugglers operating in these West Asian countries are using passengers in evacuation flights as carriers. “A chartered flight would require only Rs 13 lakh to Rs 14 lakh (to fly to Kerala). A smuggling syndicate can easily pay that much and make a section of passengers carriers of gold by paying for their ticket, or (giving them) an amount as commission. The gangs can send gold worth several crores in that manner.”
Taking advantage of the situation, smugglers have managed to recruit people who are in distress, he said.
A DRI official said they had input that nearly 90 passengers in a single chartered flight have landed in Kozhikode with smuggled gold. Stating that large quantities of gold have been smuggled in through chartered flights, the DRI official said, “The carriers individually do not bring more than 1 kg gold. But when a chunk of passengers in a flight work as carriers, they together bring in several kilograms of gold.”
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A source said: “Gold in small quantities would be inserted in private parts of passengers. Such concealment go undetected even in regular frisking (at normal times). In most smuggling cases detected in chartered flights, passengers were found to have concealed gold in their undergarments.”
For a thorough checking at the time of Covid-19, passengers have to be taken to hospitals maintaining health protocols, a source said. “For that, we require the Health Department’s assistance and infrastructure. At present, it is not possible to make thousands of passengers undergo such an examination every day. We are also facing a shortage of manpower,” the source said.
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