This was a golden handshake of a very different kind. Customs officials at Delhi’s international airport recently caught a couple that tried to sneak in 1.5kg of gold for a smuggling syndicate that sponsored their honeymoon in Thailand.
The incident has forced authorities to scrutinise newlyweds returning from popular holiday destinations.
“It was a sponsored honeymoon trip and like an Indian bride the girl was wearing gold bangles,” said a customs official. “But as per rules, a traveller has to declare the gold jewellery while flying out of India so that he or she can show it while returning. In this case, the women had not declared the jewellery while leaving and even on her return, she tried to cross through the green channel.”
India is the world’s top buyer of gold, but a high import duty has led to a flourishing smuggling trade with syndicates adopting the methods of drug couriers to evade a government crackdown. The country is likely to import between 900 and 1,000 tonnes of gold in 2015-16, a study said this year.
Sources at customs said three travellers with the same Passenger Name Record (PNR) were on their list of suspects.
“The couple was travelling for the first time but there was another passenger, who had travelled previously and we had an input about him,” an official said. “But he was not carrying anything, so we stopped the couple.”
The woman was wearing six bangles made of gold worth Rs 37 lakh. Sources said that apart from their return tickets, the husband and wife were paid Rs 20,000 each for the trip.
Officials say there have been several instances of Afghan-origin women trying to sneak in gold with this modus operandi.
Two years ago, nine such women in burqas were caught just before exiting Delhi airport for trying to smuggle gold in the form of jewellery.
A few days ago, a mother and daughter also of Afghan origin were nabbed at the airport for gold smuggling.
“If someone is going on a trip, she must mention the jewellery in the departure slip and get an export certificate from customs, which she can show while coming back to India,” an official said. “If a passenger is not filling it in the departure slip, he or she will be in trouble while coming back.”