The Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) found 26 Franck Muller watches worth more than Rs 2.5 crore in the toilet of an Air India flight from Abu Dhabi after it landed at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport late Monday.
The cost of each Franck Muller watch is estimated to be around Rs 10 lakh.
The seizure indicates the revival of a modus operandi that prevailed till the early 1980s where smuggled consignments were concealed in the aircraft toilet and were later collected by a loader or cleaner who would carry it out of the airport premises in dustbins.
The DRI, which had prior information, searched the aircraft after all passengers had disembarked. During the search, DRI officers found the watches in a handbag concealed in the toilet.
Along with the watches, the DRI also found a white chemical in powder form. “This has been sent to a chemical laboratory for tests and identification,” a senior DRI officer said, requesting anonymity, as he is not authorised to speak to the media.
The DRI suspect that it is a high-value powder. The label on the bottles read ‘anti-cancer’ powder. DRI officers suspect the involvement of an insider who was to collect the consignment after the passengers had left. “It was hidden in the toilet using an old modus operandi,” the officer said.
The agency will be questioning crew members and other staff of the airlines and airport including loaders and cleaners who were either in the aircraft or supposed to board it for some work after passengers had left.
DRI officers said the old modus operandi was probably revived as the Air Intelligence Unit (AIU) of Customs had stopped searching the aircraft after passengers had disembarked.
“Till a few years ago, they used to search the aircraft, but is not done anymore,” a DRI officer said, adding that if searching was on, then the AIU of customs would have detected the watches.
When contacted, commissioner of customs, airport, PM Govande under whom the AIU falls, refused to comment.