The Lohegaon airport seems to be emerging as a favourite destination for gold smugglers going by the increasing number of gold smuggling cases on Pune-Dubai route being registered by the customs department. On March 21, customs sleuths had nabbed a passenger who arrived on a Spice Jet flight from Dubai and seized gold plates worth Rs17.57 lakh from his possession. The suspect has been identified as Mohammad Irfan Shaikh, a resident of Trombay who was on a tourist visa to Dubai. The customs department had found him to have concealed the gold in a maze of fancy hair clips, attractive hair bands and key chains. He was caught by the sleuths due to his suspicious movement, as he was crossing the green channel. The customs department also found gold plates concealed in corrugated boxes hidden in his check-in luggage. In 2017, gold estimated to be around 3 crores was aggregately seized while 2018 has also witnessed two cases of passengers getting caught with gold.The total seizure has been estimated to be worth Rs 34 lakh till date. Interestingly, the customs sleuths last Tuesday arrested a Chennai resident Jumma Khan on charges of illegally importing 76,000 cigarette sticks estimated to be of worth Rs 10 lakh.He had flown to Pune via Air India flight IX 212, they said. Customs officials privy to the investigation, requesting anonimity as they were not authorised to speak to the media, said that import duty on gold upto ten per cent has escalated incidents of gold smuggling. The precious metal is available at low cost in Dubai where the smugglers can save anywhere between Rs 3 lakh to Rs 3 .50 lakh on 1 kg gold bought in. These people who work in the form of an organised syndicate smuggle gold from Dubai to India by air routes and other routes. They actually act as ‘courier delivery people’. The gold consignments are then handed over to ‘receivers’ marked in the regional cities of India from where the gold is sent to the final destination. The customs department has revealed that Pune is considered a crucial transit point by gold smugglers located in Mumbai and southern India. According to the customs department, passengers arriving from Dubai by air at Lohegaon airport with gold must be prepared beforehand to declare it to customs authorities at the green channel . Dubai has become the strategic location from where non resident Indians(NRIs) are buying gold to be ferried to India. Customs officers at the airports are very well aware of this trend and passengers arriving on flights coming from Dubai are screened more diligently and meticulously by the customs authorities. In a bid to check gold smuggling, the government offers rewards to informers who provide important and relevant information which might lead to seizure of gold , goods, currency or to different types of detection of Indian customs duty evasion. Currently informers are entitled to rupees 50,000 per kilogram of gold if the information they provide helps the customs sleuths nabs gold smugglers. The reward offered on gold, is far more than the reward offered even on drugs. The reward to informers for silver is Rs 1,000 per Kg, for opium its Rs 220 per Kg, for heroin it is Rs 20,000 per Kg and for cocaine it is Rs 40,000/- per Kg. and for hashish it is Rs 400 per kg. According to the customs department , the maximum number of gold catches involved gold plates being coated with rhodium which temporarily converts the metal to temporary steel and makes it very difficult to detect when passed through the sophisticated x-ray scanners at the airport.The customs department ensures that such types of metals when detected must be physically examined. The smugglers also take advantage of festive seasons when there is higher demand for gold, customs officials stated. The airport intelligence unit (AIU) too has been keeping a close tab on suspicious passengers and using sophisticated technology of passenger profiling to generate analytics and keep a check on gold smuggling and custom duty evasion from the national security point of view. Deputy commissioner (Pune International Airport) Bharat Nawale has stated that there is a lucrative reward scheme for the informers providing information regarding smuggling and/or sale of narcotics and tax evasion. The information may be provide to the deputy commissioner (preventive) Mahesh Patil at 020-26051846.