NEDUMBASSERY: In a major seizure, an Afghanistan national was intercepted while trying to smuggle international currency worth Rs 10.86 crore from the Nedumbassery airport on Wednesday. Officers of the Customs Preventive Unit and the Cochin International Airport Ltd (CIAL) stumbled upon the currency, a mix of US Dollars and Saudi Riyals, by chance, after the Dubai-bound Air India (AI) flight the Kabul native had boarded from Delhi, developed a technical snag at the Nedumbassery airport the other day.
Mohammad Siddiqui Yusafi, 33, a garment merchant in Afghanistan, was caught before he could board another flight to Dubai. The Customs Department is now tracing the whereabouts of his brother who is still in New Delhi.
Yusafi had boarded the AI flight from the New Delhi airport after completing baggage screening. Upon reaching the Nedumbassery airport on Tuesday evening, the flight developed a technical snag following which all the passengers and their baggage were offloaded and shifted to nearby hotels. An Emirates flight was then arranged to fly the passengers to Dubai on Wednesday morning.
“It was during the second baggage screening the currencies were detected in the accused person’s bags. The money was hidden inside a rice-cooker, a heater and several dresses,” Pullela Nageswara Rao, chief commissioner, Central Excise, Customs and Service Tax, said. “Had the AI flight not developed the technical problem, the smuggling would have gone undetected,” he said. Customs Commissioner Sumit Kumar said 14 lakh US Dollars (nearly Rs 9 crore) and 8.9 lakh worth Saudi Riyals (nearly Rs 2 crore) were found hidden in the baggage.
“We are coordinating with other agencies to probe the incident. The Afghan national used to travel to New Delhi frequently to buy garments from Lajpat Nagar market in New Delhi and sell it in Kabul,” Kumar said.
Yusafi’s passport details revealed he had been to New Delhi around 11 times. The passport was also verified at Dubai airport before. This time, he had reached New Delhi in February and was staying with his brother. “Initial inquiry suggests the accused is a carrier. He claims he was unaware about the foreign currencies in it and that the baggage was given to him by his brother’s friend, asking him to give it to an unidentified person in Dubai. Attempts to track his brother have started,” said a Customs officer.
IB, NIA officers grill Yusafi
Officers from the Intelligence Bureau, the National Investigation Agency and the Special Branch of the state police arrived at the airport on Wednesday and interrogated Yusafi. “We will record his arrest soon. A case will be registered under the Customs Act. This is one of the largest seizures of foreign currency in Kerala. Though we had seized foreign currency in July and November last year, the amount was very low in comparison,” said an officer.
Questions raised over security arrangements at Delhi airport
Kochi: The seizure of foreign currency at the Nedumbassery airport has raised questions over the security arrangements at the New Delhi airport, one of the busiest airports in India. “It is true the accused person’s baggage containing the foreign currency went undetected at the New Delhi airport. We are enquiring about this with officers there and will include this aspect in our investigation,” said Pullela Nageswara Rao, Chief Commissioner of Central Excise, Customs and Service Tax.
Advanced CTX scanning machines did the trick
Kochi: A major credit of the foreign currency seizure at Nedumbassery airport on Wednesday goes to the high-end Computed Tomography X-ray (CTX) screening machine installed at CIAL. Had he landed at any other airport, the Afghanistan national would have successfully smuggled out the foreign currencies without anybody noticing. Four high-speed CTX 9800 DSi screening machines were installed at CIAL at a cost of Rs 158 crore after its Terminal-3 became operational last year. “We have the best baggage scanning machines in India. Usually, the CTX scanning technology is used in hospitals. It produces high-resolution 3D images which makes visible even small objects in the baggage. It facilitates more accurate detection. We have in line three-layer baggage screening system at CIAL,” said a security officer at CIAL. CIAL is one of the first airports in the country which adopted four-stage baggage screening system.