KOCHI: As early as from the 1960s, the potent mix of gold and hawala has financed illegal activities ranging from real estate, jewelleries, financial mafia and liquor business in the state, besides the campaign of political personalities. Though enforcement agencies, including the Customs, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) and Enforcement Directorate (ED), have conducted numerous inquiries to trace those reaping rich dividends from the proceedings of smuggled gold, other than the arrest of a few main agents of the smugglers, there has been no real breakthrough.
The unholy nexus of gold smugglers with politicians and officials is not something new in the state. Numerous shady deals exposing the dark underbelly of this symbiotic relationship have emerged in the past 10 years. Hormis Tharakan, who had served both as RAW chief and DGP of Kerala Police, said the 1970s had been a testing time for enforcement agencies because the state’s coastal stretch between Thrissur and Kasaragod was dominated by several gold smuggling gangs.
It was only after the introduction of Conservation Of Foreign Exchange And Prevention Of Smuggling Activities Act (COFEPOSA) in December 1974 that enforcement agencies could lock away many operatives of smuggling gangs led by dreaded criminals like Haji Mastan. “Gold smuggling never ended due to the huge demand for gold in Kerala.
New rackets emerged and the operations continued,” Tharakan told TNIE. According to Jacob Punnoose, former state police chief, “It’s obvious that money from the smuggled gold is being diverted to various sectors in Kerala like real estate and many have been enjoying its fruits”. Punnoose said during his tenure as ADGP(Intelligence), he had submitted several reports to the government on the growing activities of gold smugglers in the state and how the proceeds were being diverted to various other activities. “Earlier, it was through the sea route, but now it has shifted to air.
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It was the Calicut airport which had earned the dubious reputation as a smugglers’ paradise. But constant monitoring by different agencies, put the brakes on smuggling activities which later shifted to Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram airports,” he added. Intelligence officials said there have been specific reports on how local politicians were hand in glove with gold smuggling rackets from small towns like Koduvally and other places in Thrissur, Malappuram, Kozhikode and Kasargod districts. “It’s the money from the smuggled gold and hawala that funds election campaigns. Now that monitoring of hard cash transactions has been strengthened, gold has replaced cash,” the officers said. In 2018, the agencies had been in for a surprise when two Kerala MLAs submitted a letter to the home department seeking the release a gold smuggler facing COFEPOSA charges.
Though the MLAs -- P T A Rahim and Karat Razak -- responded that the letter was a petition submitted to them by the father of the accused and since they are public servants, it was their responsibility to hand over it to the authorities concerned. But the Central agencies saw it differently and conducted an in-depth probe into it. According to the agencies, Shahbas Muhammed, Nabeed Abdul Khader, Abu Lais, T K Fayas and Karat Faisal are the major gold smugglers in Kerala and they are under the scanner ever since their release on bail following the arrest. “When we heighten surveillance on established routes, new entrants emerge with the help of those in corridors of power,” the officials added.