A 22-year-old man was caught by the Air Intelligence Unit (AIU) of Mumbai Customs on Sunday while trying to smuggle 100 rare turtles and tortoises worth Rs 50 lakh to Bangkok. The seized reptiles include three-keeled turtles, Indian spotted turtles and tortoises. They are protected under the Wildlife Protection Act and are known to fetch a high price in the illegal market.
Mohammed Arif Hussain, a native of Patna in Bihar was stopped while trying to board a Thai Airways flight post-midnight in Mumbai. Customs officials said that while screening his bag, a Mumbai International Airport Pvt Limited (MIAL) staffer found something unusual. He alerted the AIU, which sent a team to the screening machine. AIU officials then kept the bag aside and called Hussain.
The bag was opened in his presence and the AIU team found the turtles and tortoises stuffed among the clothes. "The reptiles were jammed into one bag," a Customs official said requesting anonymity.
Hussain told AIU officials that he had come to Mumbai from Patna a day earlier. He said he was given the bag at Crawford Market by an unidentified man. Hussain was asked to call him on reaching Bangkok when he would be told about identity of the person to whom the bag was to be delivered. Hussain said he was promised free return air tickets and Rs 5,000 for this.
Advocate Ravi Hirani, Hussain's lawyer, said his client was not aware of the contents of the bag. Customs booked Hussain under section 113 of Customs Act (illegal exports) and handed him over to the wildlife authorities, who will produce him in court on Monday.