Customs officers in India seized 30 kilograms of gold from an air cargo consignment addressed to a United Arab Emirates (UAE) consulate. The gold was smuggled in diplomatic bags into Kerala's Thiruvanthapuram airport in a chartered flight, local reports said. The large consignment had reached the airport a few days ago, and Customs officials had been alerted by an informer.
This is reportedly the first time in India that diplomatic baggage has been used to smuggle gold. Intelligence agencies believe that the officials from the consulate might be involved in the operation. Interestingly, diplomatic baggage is mostly avoided by the customs for screening at airports and is handed over directly to the concerned consulates and embassies.
A Big Catch
The gold, which is estimated to be worth $2.1 million (Rs 15 crore) was addressed to the Consulate General of the United Arab Emirates and was seized after customs officers examined the baggage following permission from India's foreign ministry. The gold was packed in 12 bars, each weighing 2.5 kgs, and was concealed inside pipes, air compressors and faucets.
According to airport authorities, the shipment arrived at the Thiruvanthapuram Airport five days ago and was kept unopened pending clearance at the air cargo complex. However, acting on a tipoff, Indian customs enforcers summoned officials from the UAE consulate and opened the baggage in their presence.
The UAE consulate in India has denied any knowledge of the smuggled gold. Customs enforcers said that it wasn't a single-carrier operation and involved operators in both the UAE and India.
Tip of the Iceberg
Although customs officials realized that the shipment contained smuggled gold, they didn't open the baggage as it is the thumb rule not to open shipments of foreign consulates and embassies in India. Investigations are on and it is believed that the operation spanned international borders and involved well-entrenched operators.
Moreover, it is also believed that there was insider help in carrying out the operation. "It has all the markings of an operation carried out with insider help. The suspects could include consular staff, airport insiders and their local collaborators," said the Customs officials.
Intelligence agency officials believe that India's customs department is tight-lipped about the operations because of the role of diplomats from the UAE. However, they feel people in the UAE consulate are hand-in-glove with smuggler networks in Kerala and the UAE.
Smuggling of gold into India has once again seen a resurgence owing to the difference in the price of the yellow metal in the country and abroad. The Thiruvanthapuram airport is always on the radar of the Customs as a majority of the gold smuggling in India happens through the state of Kerala.
Given that most commercial flights stay canceled owing to the coronavirus-induced travel ban, smugglers are scouting regular passengers to act as carriers. On June 22 and June 23, the customs office had registered six gold smuggling cases, while three other cases were also registered in the third week of June, all in Kerala.