The Mumbai Customs authorities stumbled upon a new modus operandi being attempted by saffron smugglers when they arrested three Gujarat-based poor fishermen who arrived from Dubai.
The fishermen were found to be carrying a total of 22 kg saffron worth Rs22 lakh. Officials have kept a special watch on saffron smuggling because of the upcoming festive season.
Sources in Customs said prior to this, saffron smuggling syndicates were using people from Kasargod in Kerala and Bhatkal in Karnataka who are generally well-to-do.
“People from Kasargod and Bhatkal were used, as many of them have shops in Dubai and many others work there.
Also, some people from these two paces were working as professional carriers for saffron and used to frequently visit Dubai,” a senior Customs official said, requesting anonymity.
However, after the department had found out the modus operandi and because consignments were being caught frequently in the past, the syndicate tried a new method. Officials said that’s how poor fishermen came to be used, so that they could pass through undetected.
A Customs batch headed by deputy commissioner Sameer Wankhede stopped Gani Jusab, Latifa Gajan and S Mohammed Bacchu while they were walking through the green channel without declaring the saffron.
Only passengers who do not have anything to declare can walk through the green channel. The three arrived on two different flights.
On checking their baggage, the authorities found that each of them was carrying a cardboard box wrapped in plastic and stuffed under all their clothes in their luggage.
While Jusab’s box contained 7 kg of saffron, those carried by Gajan and Bacchu had 8 kg and 7 kg respectively. During questioning they said they had been given the saffron by a person in Dubai who gave them free tickets for Mumbai and Rs500 a head commission.
“They were coming to Mumbai to visit their families and with the lure of free tickets, they agreed to smuggle the saffron,” the official said, on condition of anonymity.
The three also told officials that they were to deliver the saffron to a person who was waiting outside the airport.
Commissioner of Customs, airport, PM Govande, confirmed the arrest of the three fishermen.