The Mumbai airport Customs, early Saturday, detained Goa’s education minister Atanasio (Babush) Monserrate for trying to smuggle Indian and foreign currency equivalent of Rs25 lakh to Dubai.
However, he was allowed to go in the evening after a phone call from a Union minister’s office in Delhi, customs officials said.
They said Monserrate was going to Dubai along with his personal assistant (PA) around 1am by an Emirates flight and had cleared the security check at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport.
“We stopped him on suspicion of conducting a further check,” a senior Customs official said, requesting anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the media.
He said on checking his person and handbag, the officers found $25,000 (Rs 11.25 lakh) in traveller’s cheques, 75,000 dirhams (Rs 9.14 lakh) in cash and Rs 70,000 in cash. The officers also found Rs 1 lakh in cash and some dirhams in Monserrate’s PA’s bag.
The Customs then began to record Monserrate’s statement around 4am. Monserrate told officers that the currency was meant for shopping.
“We suspect he meant to park the money in Dubai,” the officer said.
Customs officials had faced problems recording his statement and also did not arrest him till afternoon, as Monserrate began calling some politicians in Delhi to get him released.
“We got a call from Delhi asking not to arrest him as he is an eminent member of the legislative assembly and also a cabinet rank minister, and hence won’t escape or tamper with evidence,” the officer said.
Customs officials allowed Monserrate and his PA to go after seizing the cash and traveller’s cheques. “We will summon him for questioning again next week,” the officer said.
Rules state that a passenger can carry foreign currency worth only $2,000 in cash and $3,000 worth traveller’s cheques.
In Indian currency, a passenger is allowed to carry Rs 7,500 in cash. “To carry cash or traveller’s cheques beyond these amounts, one needs permission of the Reserve Bank of India,” the officer said.