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Corruption goes hi-tech

The average daily bribe collected by Customs officials ranges from Rs 50,000 to Rs 2 lakh, say investigators of graft cases.

mumbai Updated: Feb 21, 2010 01:16 IST
Manish Pachouly

The average daily bribe collected by Customs officials ranges from Rs 50,000 to Rs 2 lakh, say investigators of graft cases.

This is the agency responsible for watching what comes in and leave the city’s ports and airports.

And while authorities struggle to keep a check on corruption, those indulging in shady deals have begun using the latest technology to aid smooth operations.

The pen drive is one of these aids. A senior Customs official said pen drives are used to store information on bribes. The information is in coded languages.

“It is risky to keep such details on the computer as it is easily noticeable, especially during Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) raids,” an official said requesting anonymity.

Pen drives are useful because they are easy to hide and can be easily destroyed.

Other tools in use are high-end mobile phones with Internet. Customs officers use these phones to keep in touch with their ‘collection agents’— people who collect the bribe money on their behalf for a commission of 2 per cent.

These collection agents could be employees of customs house agents, shop runners doing business near ports and sometimes retired officials from the department who works as Customs consultants.

“The officials ask their agents to collect the bribe on their behalf outside the ports and keep it with them,” the official said adding that some officials collect the same from the agent either the same evening while others prefer to take it after a week or fortnight.

Sources say coordinating with collection agents using the Internet on the mobile phone helps keep things discreet.

“Since talking about it on the phone is risky, many officers either give missed calls or send blank emails to their agents whenever they want to meet them personally,” the official said.

The officer and his agent use codes to communicate. For instance, if Rs 2 lakh need to be collected from someone named Verma, the e-mail sent to the collection agent would read ‘Verma 2’.

Other code words include ‘one kg sweets’, which means Rs 1 lakh, ‘one orange’ for Rs 25,000, ‘P’ for bribe paid and ‘D’ for bribe due.

Senior customs officials refused to comment.

The system at the airport works differently. Here, Customs department sepoys are used

to carry cash out of the premises. The bribe is handed over to a sepoy, who keeps moving in and out of the airport for official duties.

The sepoy hands over the cash to the Customs official’s confidante waiting outside the airport. These sepoys earn a 20 per cent commission.

“When there is rush of international flights, the bribe money is transferred out of the airport every half an hour,” said a Central Bureau of Investigation official investigating a bribery case involving airport Customs staff.