BENGALURU: Reaffirming the fact that airports in Bengaluru and Mangaluru have become major hubs for gold smuggling, the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) has unearthed a new ring of syndicates, working in cohorts with Customs officials. In a crackdown, DRI Bengaluru zonal unit, has uncovered how the smuggling syndicate in Dubai and South India allegedly “recruited” some “pliable” Customs officers to give safe passage to their couriers who bring in the precious yellow metal, in exchange of monetary gratification.
Between July and September 2018, two Customs officers, Havaldars Shrikantha Poojary and Ashwin N V, who were then deployed at Mangaluru International Airport (MIA), had allegedly connived with the kingpin Ahmed Shamsher alias Chechu of Kasargod in Kerala, and his counterparts in Dubai. They had smuggled in 186 kg of gold worth Rs 55.80 crore, using 123 passengers, a majority of whom were also from Kasargod, an official source told TNIE.
“Chechu, who had then fled the country, was detained under the stringent Conservation of Foreign Exchange & Prevention of Smuggling Activities Act (COFEPOSA) recently at Surathkal railway station, and is lodged in judicial custody at Bengaluru Central Prison,” he added.
Rs 25L seized from Customs official
The smuggling racket came to light when the DRI, in September last year, seized 1,515.27 gm of gold of foreign origin from an international passenger who had arrived at MIA from Dubai.“During investigation, the Directorate found that Poojary and Ashwin were allegedly hired to receive the contraband gold concealed in mobile phone pouches from various carriers arriving from Dubai, and help them bypass the Customs check at MIA. Once cleared, the carriers were directed by their handlers to hand over the smuggled gold to two Customs havaldars, who then passed it to another accused, Akbar Siddik, at a pre-determined location outside the airport in exchange for money,” the officer added.
The DRI had searched the residential premises of Poojary, who was then head havaldar, and recovered Rs 24,96,000 in cash. Ashwin’s role had come to light during investigation into the case, he said.
Siddik and the two Customs officers were subsequently detained under COFEPOSA and the officers were placed under suspension, following investigation. Explaining the modus operandi of gold and narcotic smuggling, a senior officer said that the main handlers task their counterparts in India to identify some pliable Customs officers who are posted at international airports and can be “hired” for providing safe passage to the couriers.
“The recruiters first approach Customs officers who are posted at international airports and ask them for the Dubai-bound airlines manifest and duty roster of officers at the airport. Not every officer falls prey to the lure of money. But some officers bite the bait. They share the duty roster with their recruiters on WhatsApp. In Dubai, the henchmen prey upon vulnerable people, who are either unemployed or are victims of trafficking and want to exit the country at the earliest. They offer them money and safe exit for smuggling gold or drugs to India. Their photographs are shared with the officer at the Customs check-post in India on WhatsApp to identify them,” explained the officer.