Smugglers now taking the ‘innovative’ route
Bengaluru: On August 17, the officials of the Directorate Revenue Intelligence (DRI) were waiting for a passenger, who had boarded a connecting flight from Dubai, to land at the Kempegowda International Airport (KIA). The African national who claimed he had come to India for treatment of kidney ailment, was pulled aside for checking on arrival. After the baggage didn’t show anything, the officials took him for a medical scan.
According to the DRI officials, they had received a specific input that he had drugs in his stomach, and the tip was proven right during the scan. “He had consumed 1.3 kg of cocaine worth around ₹12 crore. The cocaine was consumed as small capsules. They were double packed in condoms and he swallowed them,” said a senior DRI official.
This is among the many bizarre and creative ways used to smuggle contraband through Bengaluru’s Kempegowda International Airport in the recent past. Despite the pandemic and restrictions on travel that followed, there have been several attempts to smuggle contraband, said officials at the airport. From seizing gold, drugs, and raw materials for drug manufacturing, the customs department at the airport has been busy over the past year. Not only that, attempt has also been made to send out contraband from the airport.
An official spokesperson of the customs department said that a particular incident involving gold smuggling was busted in March when two passengers were caught smuggling gold in the form of screws and rods of trolly bags. The first instance was reported on March 3, when the Customs Department officials searched a bag of a passenger based on a tipoff. The trolley bag was fitted with 42 screws and four rods, which were made of gold and coated with rhodium to camouflage the gold. The 42-year-old passenger, a resident of Karwar was subsequently arrested.
Just a day after, another person was caught smuggling gold using the same operandi. In this case, the 30-year-old passenger’s laptop bag had a strip of gold and had 23 gold screws fitted to it, which were covered in copper to avoid detection.
In another case reported on June 2, a 35-year-old Zimbabwean woman was carrying 8 kg of heroin worth ₹56 crore, which she had hidden in a false bottom of her bag. “In both cases where drugs were seized, the common factor was that the two arrested persons entered the country on a medical visa. We have passed the information on to the concerned authorities for further action,” the DRI official added.
It was not just passengers and cargo coming into the country, but even the consignment leaving the country have come under the customs department’s radar. According to an official, two instances of smuggling drugs using photo albums and wedding cards stood out in 2020.
“The first incident was reported in February 2020. In this case, the 5 kilograms of ephedrine worth around ₹5 crore was found inside several wedding invitations. The drug was hidden between gaps of 43 wedding cards, packed in plastic covers. Each wedding card had two of such packets,” said the DRI official.
By August, a similar incident was reported in which 13.2 kg of pseudoephedrine worth around ₹13 crore was seized at the Kempegowda International Airport. On August 17, 2020, a tipoff was received by the department officials claimed that a large quantity of pseudoephedrine was en route to Australia from Bengaluru.
“The consignment was in Singapore when we got the tipoff, so we recalled it. On checking it, we found photo albums, phone frames, and other personal items. It looked liked memorabilia of a private event being sent to relatives in Australia, but each item had drugs in it,” said the DRI official.
Drugs were hidden in the thick covers of the albums and photo frames. Thin sheets of pseudoephedrine were kept under the photographs in the albums and similarly in the photo frames. “This is one of the largest consignments seized in recent times at the international airport. The market value of this product was more than ₹13 crore,” said the DRI official.
According to a statement from a DRI spokesperson, pseudoephedrine is becoming the main precursor chemical preferred in the manufacture of methamphetamine in Australia. Only 1.5 kg of pseudoephedrine is needed to obtain one kg of methamphetamine.
This incident brought out the supply of raw materials to produce drugs to Australia and other countries, over the past five years. “Despite the pandemic, the total amount of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine seized by the DRI across India this year has already crossed 500 kg, clearly pointing to a mass diversion of the precursor drug to Australian markets,” read the statement.
Crystalline methamphetamine, sold as crystal meth or ice, is manufactured in clandestine drug laboratories in Australia and is a highly purified form of the drug that is recognizable by its translucent crystalline appearance. “In recent times, there has been an ever-increasing number of cases that have been detected by enforcement agencies of attempted smuggling from India to Australia of both ephedrine and pseudoephedrine,” said the DRI
KIA officials said that with the travel restrictions easing, they are looking at more attempts to smuggle contraband from using more innovating methods and the customs department is strengthening its vigilance and informant networks.