THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: For long, Trivandrum International Airport did not feature prominently on the radar of law enforcement agencies. Unlike its counterparts elsewhere, the airport didn't have to grapple with organised smuggling, until recently.
The seizure of 25 kg of gold from two passengers who had arrived from Dubai in May, has altered the image of the airport as a secure one with not much leverage for smuggling cartels. So far, the probe has thrown up disturbing details. The presence of a homegrown smuggling racket has been confirmed by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI).
It has been found that the racket had about 15 members, of whom nine are currently cooling their heels behind bars after the DRI nailed them. The majority of the members are personally connected and have managed to bring home more than 1,000 kg of gold. As per sources, the carriers flew down to the capital about 100 times to bring the booty.
The group has women members who were used as carriers. Serena, one of the first persons to be arrested in connection with the gold haul had allegedly smuggled in gold 40 times. The racket employed women who did not have any criminal antecedents and were picked up for the job allegedly by Biju Manohar, the ringleader of the racket.
A Customs official said it has become impossible now to focus on any particular target as the carriers now hail from diverse backgrounds.
"Earlier passenger profiling was easy. We could easily train our guns on certain people and go after them. Most of them hailed from a similar background. Now, the carriers come from diverse spectra. One of the women who was arrested was running a beauty salon while the other was a housewife. It has become difficult to narrow down the list of suspects," said the officer.
DRI officials privy to the probe said the image of Thiruvananthapuram as a secure airport has changed. The fact that a few of the Customs officials are hand in glove with the smugglers do not help the cause. DRI had recently arrested a senior Customs officer, V Radhakrishnan, for assisting smugglers.
Official statistics throw light on the increase in smuggling activities through the airport. As per the data accessed from the Air Intelligence Unit of the Customs Department, 100 cases of smuggling have been registered from April 2018 to March 2019. The total quantity of gold seized during this period was 48 kg. The number of cases from April 2017 to March 2018 was just 33 and the amount of gold seized during that period was only 17 kg.