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Gold smugglers exploit security gaps at Mumbai airport, employ foreign carriers for delivery

Officers said the Mumbai international airport has become a favourite haunt for smugglers owing to its business.

mumbai Updated: Dec 10, 2017 01:19 IST
Pratik Salunke
Pratik Salunke
Hindustan Times
270kg of gold was seized in one year.

When two Malaysian women were exiting the Mumbai international airport with a seven-year-old girl last month, there was little reason for the Air Intelligence Unit (AIU) to be suspicious. A search, however, resulted in the recovery of gold jewellery worth Rs51.35 lakh form them.

Such cases detected at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport have led authorities to believe that a well-oiled network is up and running, and foreigners are being used as carriers by smuggling mafia.

Officers said the Mumbai international airport has become a favourite haunt for smugglers owing to its business.

The airport, which operates out of a single runway, is one of the busiest in the world and handles 45 million passengers every year. Foreign nationals working for a smuggling ring mostly travel on tourist visas. Authorities have to be doubly sure before intercepting them as unnecessary hassle might spell doom for tourism.

“It is nearly impossible to check the luggage of all passengers as it would delay operations at the Mumbai airport — among the world’s busiest operating from a single runway. Smugglers from other cities have zeroed in on the Mumbai airport where they feel it is easier to sneak gold,” said an AIU officer. The AIU statistics show that 25 foreigners and 105 Indians were arrested for smuggling gold between November 2016 and October 2017. As many as 640 cases were registered and 270kg of gold was seized in this period.

Smugglers never cease to surprise security forces at airports with their ingenious ways to sneak gold with the help of foreign nationals. “The handlers of these foreign mules in many cases are mostly people of Indian origins,” said another AIU officer.

“As the gold demand is very high, it is also procured through illegal channels and there is no record kept as it is sold to consumers without receipts.”

India is world’s second largest consumer of the precious metal and high margins have made smuggling a lucrative option.

While the authorities have kept a vigil at the airport, there is much that can be done to nab the key overseas players, who have built a vast network of carriers.

Even if the name or location of a smuggler is revealed, the agencies have to undergo a long process to detain them in the foreign country through diplomatic channels. “The mules are not aware of the masterminds,” said the officer.

Sources said the slow judicial process leads to weakening of cases. “Bail is granted within a few months. There have been cases in which Indians working as carriers have been repeatedly arrested,” said the officer

First Published: Dec 10, 2017 01:19 IST