Smugglers and couriers who bring gold into the country illegally, have usually been known to bring the commodity by hiding it outside their body through various means. But with air intelligence units of the customs wising up to myriad modes of concealment, smugglers have resorted to reshaping gold to get it through. Monday’s incident where two men who arrived from Sri Lanka at the airport, had shaped crude gold bits to fit inside the base of their mouth under the tongue, is perhaps the best example of this new practice.
“We were quite surprised by this ingenious idea. They cleared airport security in Colombo and made it here without talking much, saying that they were observing a mouna viradham (vow of silence),” said a customs official. However, because Shahul Hameed and Mohammed Izadeen could not speak clearly, officials zeroed in on them and checked them to find gold under their tongues. Officials are on high alert as this happened just five days after another passenger was caught trying to smuggle 2.03 kg of gold, shaped to fit inside a 40- inch LED TV stand.
Although smugglers have been constantly finding new ways to ensure gold does not get detected by scanners by covering it with carbon paper or graphite sheets, concealing it on their body itself appears to be a favoured trend now.
Last December, a passenger from the Middle East was caught with a coat lined with graphite and 175 gold coins sewn into the lining, while a woman with 1.5 kg of gold sewn into a fake kondai (hair bun) was collared two months ago. “Body scans are not mandatory in many airports and passengers are frisked and subjected to full body scans at the destination airport only when there is a major cause for suspicion,” the customs official added.
In another incident, a buxom lady was arrested after sleuths found that her bosom appeared extra-large as she had sewn 4 kg of shaped gold into her brassiere. In all these cases, customs officials have prided themselves on spotting suspicious-looking passengers.
“We are constantly amazed at how smugglers are finding new ways to get gold through and sometimes marvel at their ingenuity. Where they slip up is in selection of couriers. Most are nervous or cannot withstand our initial questions,” says a high-ranking customs official.
Gold is mostly smuggled to Chennai from Sri Lanka while bars and larger consignments come from the Middle East. The island nation is a preferred source given the difference in price - 1 gram in SL costs less than `2,700 whereas the price here hovers around `3,000 per gram.