THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Consider yourself lucky if you decided not to walk into the funky duty-free shop at the Trivandrum International Airport during your last overseas travel. Here's what you know: You've saved a few bucks by not buying the booze. Here's what you don't know: The shop may have purchased it using your documents and sold it in the black market. Puzzled? Well...Customs Commissioner Sumit Kumar recently suspended the licence of Plus Max after it was found the duty-free shop allegedly used the passport details of nearly 13,000 international passengers who travelled through the airport from September to December 2017 to divert the foreign liquor to the black market.
The act has raised serious questions about the safety of passengers’ travel documents, including passport. A senior Customs officer said the shop's act showed how vulnerable the system is. What's more, he expressed concern the details it collected could even be used for anti-national activities! The officers said they found the private firm managed to avoid paying `6 crore as duty by illegally diverting foreign liquor to the local black market.
It is a serious criminal offence under the Indian Penal Code, they said. International passengers who disembark at the airport can purchase up to two litres of foreign liquor at tax-free rate from the duty-free shop. All the passengers need to do is show their passports and air tickets at the shop. It is suspected the staff at the outlet used the passport details of the passengers who did not purchase liquor to divert large quantities of it. The Customs is also probing the role of airport director George G Tharakan in the alleged scam as he was reluctant to cooperate with the enforcement agencies, said the officers. However, Tharakan said neither the Airport Authority of India nor its staff has any connection with the incident. It's a private firm and if there are any discrepancies in their sales records, they are liable to answer. The airport authorities have no role in the matter, he said.
Meanwhile, it is learnt the Customs is set to swoop down on duty-free shops at the Madurai and Visakhapatnamairports which are managed by the same company. The officers also said once the scale of the fraud at the Trivandrum Airport is assessed, it would register a case against the accused under various provisions of the Customs Act 1962. The Excise Department had shut down the duty-free shop of the same company at the Pune airport last year.
The Customs officers had closed down the duty-free shop at the airport after unearthing large-scale irregularitiesrelated to the illegal sale of imported liquor last December.Following this, the company moved the court challenging the Customs' decision.In 2012, the CISF guarding the airport also allegedly busted a racket that profited from illegal diversion of foreignliquor from the duty-free shop of the airport for sale in the local black market.
Following the CISF action, the police arrested two persons, including a self-styled labour union leader of a sectionof airport trolley-pushers.The private firm which had been running the duty free shop allegedly evaded tax to the tune of `6 crore betweenSeptember and December, 2017.According to Customs, the firm allegedly used the travel documents of 13,000 passengers to divert foreign liquor toblack marketThe Customs which sought the services of C-DAC to examine the computers of the duty-free shop ruled out chance of anyhacking, contrary to the firm's claim