The Mumbai Customs have been instructed to carry out surprise checks on aircrafts coming from locations such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
The verbal instruction by senior Customs authorities came following seizure of 26 Franck Muller watches worth more than Rs 2.5 crore from an Air India flight that arrived at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport from Abu Dhabi.
The Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) had found the watches in the toilet of the flight on Monday.
The seizure indicated revival of an old modus operandi that was used till the early 1980s wherein smuggled consignments, especially gold, were concealed in the aircraft toilet and were collected by a loader or cleaner.
Customs officers suspect that the smugglers had decided to revive the old modus operandi as rummaging through flights was stopped over 10 years ago.
Various airlines had complained that the practice delayed the aircraft at the runway, for which they had to pay a huge amount as parking charges. Going through a single flight takes around 30 to 45 minutes.
A senior customs officer, requesting anonymity, as he is not authorised to speak to the media, said the top authorities have asked them to carry out surprise checks on aircrafts.
“A written instruction is expected in the next few days,” the officer said.
PM Govande, commissioner of customs, airport, was not available for comment.
Meanwhile, the DRI suspects that the recipient of the watches could be based in Ahmedabad. “The flight was from Abu Dhabi to Mumbai to Ahmedabad,” a senior DRI officer said. The agency suspects that an insider — a cleaner, maintenance staff or crewmember — would have removed the watches from the aircraft toilet at Ahmedabad.
The DRI learned about the smuggling attempt after they taped phone calls between some persons of the syndicate. Though the agency could not get hold of these people, they seized the watches and a white chemical powder. “We are tracing the accused,” the officer said.