KOCHI: The Customs Department has launched a manhunt for the Afghan who has gone missing after being released on bail in a case related to the seizure of foreign currencies worth 10.86 crore - the largest foreign currency haul in the country - from the Cochin International Airport.
The Customs has sought the assistance of the police in Kerala and New Delhi for tracking down Mohammed Siddiqui Yusafi. Yusafi, 33, was arrested by the Customs sleuths while boarding a flight to Dubai from Nedumbassery in June. Yusafi had boarded an Air India flight to Dubai via Kochi from New Delhi. However, due to a technical snag, the passengers were asked to alight at Nedumbassery airport. The currencies - a mix of Dollars and Saudi Riyals - were detected when the baggage was scanned at CIAL.
In July, Customs invoked COFEPOSA detention against him. However, the COFEPOSA review committee decided to cancel the preventive detention stating the accused did not know about the charges against him as he understands only Dari language, a Persian variety spoken in Afghanistan.
A top officer, on condition of anonymity, said a petition has been filed before the Ernakulam Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate Court (Economic Offence) for cancelling Yusafi’s bail. The Customs officers are apprehensive about the possibility of him leaving the country.
The identities of the persons who stood as sureties for executing the bail were found to be bogus. “We have already started the search for Mohammad Siddiqui Yusafi. We have approached the Kerala Police to take necessary action to track him down. Our units in New Delhi, where he had been staying, are also looking for him. We will also seek the assistance of Delhi Police in this regard. The persons who stood as sureties also have to traced,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Customs has decided to re-initiate COFEPOSA detention against him and the procedures in this regard have been completed. The Customs have also prepared documents related to charges against the accused in Dari language.
“However, he has to be tracked down before re-initiating COFEPOSA. If not found, a non-bailable arrest warrant will be sought against him from the court,” he said.
Lookout notice issued against four other persons
During the probe into the currency seizure case, the Customs had found the involvement of an international cartel behind currency smuggling. A lookout notice has been issued against four other foreign nationals who are suspected to be involved in currency smuggling. Customs officers suspect these persons will continue smuggling activities as it is easy to obtain fake passports from Afghanistan.
Mystery continues over flight
Even after months-long investigation, the Customs sleuths are yet to crack the mystery behind the racket using the New Delhi-Kochi-Dubai flight for smuggling activities. Customs Commissioner Sumit Kumar said they are checking whether any of the airline crew members are facilitating the smugglers, due to which the racket is using the same flight for smuggling activities.“We have increased the surveillance activities to crack the mystery,” he said.