Gold and flat screen TVs. If you ask any Customs officer at the Chennai Airport what the biggest bane of their constantly vigilant existence is, they’d list these two in a flash. With smugglers and mules resorting to all kinds of ingenious methods to try and slip the precious metal past customs, sleuths have been extra-vigilant and the results reflect it — in January, close to `21 crore worth of smuggled gold — in the form of biscuits, bars, blocks, jewellery and coins were confiscated.
And what is done with all that gold after the carrier is arrested? “It is normally reserved in our cachement and kept till the case is brought to court. After that, based on the indictment, the gold is established as smuggled and after a due waiting period, it is sold through the bank,” said an official.
It is only rarely that after going to court, the gold is certified as genuinely purchased and actually returned to the owner. While the legal process can take an extra-long time, sometimes the gold can reach the selling stage sooner — if the person caught with the contraband is identified only as a carrier and the ‘smuggling ring’ is not found, then the case is disposed of quickly as the smuggler almost always pleads guilty.
All manner of electronic goods from LEDs, flat panels, 3D TVs to Blu-Ray players, mobile phones, tablets and laptops are smuggled into the country and land into the customs net.
“Sometimes it is smuggling and sometimes it is a lack of proper import permits. If the permits are not cleared for a year, then the goods are remitted and can be disposed of,” said an agent who works at Customs House.
Agents are most in tune with when seized electronics and liquor are auctioned and are “on the money” to pick up the best stock.
All goods are deemed to be in control of the Central government by law with Customs officials acting as custodians. Is it all goods, you may ask. “All goods,” confirmed an air intelligence sleuth.
“Even when there are live animals without proper clearance or turtles, sea horses and sea cucumbers that are smuggled, we are primary custodians and will entrust it to the care of the Forest Department.
Disposal of seized wood like red sanders is usually more difficult for us, as the identity of the traders whom we are auctioning to needs to be verified,” he added.
And drugs? Drugs are uniformly held till the cases are disposed of and then destroyed centrally.
This is a tad more complex than marijuana as local Customs encounters party drugs like ketamine, heroin and cocaine that are more expensive and in high demand.