How a YouTuber set up shop at Chennai airport to help gold smugglers

Customs says the syndicate, through a Lankan in UAE, gave Rs 70L to pay deposit for the lease
Gold smuggling
Image used for representational purpose only.(Express Illustration)

CHENNAI: Mohammed Sabir Ali, the owner of the retail shop Airhub at Chennai international airport, which was allegedly a front for a Sri Lankan gold smuggling syndicate, was funded by a member of the syndicate living in Abu Dhabi as he did not have the financial wherewithal to pay Rs 70 lakh as deposit for getting the lease, sources said quoting the investigation by the customs department.

Customs has already arrested Sabir Ali and seven of his employees after finding that they had helped smuggle 267 kg gold worth Rs 167 crore in a span of two months through the shop located in the airport’s departure lounge.

Airhub had obtained the contract from Vidvedaa PRG, the authorised concessionaire for leasing out retail spaces in Chennai airport. A source at Vidvedaa said that they have terminated their agreement with Airhub immediately after the smuggling racket came to light.

Ali and seven of his employees were recruited and trained by the syndicate to smuggle gold given by transit passengers to receivers outside the airport. The shop sells toys, souvenirs and bags.

Sources said that Ali, who is 29-years-old and lives in Chennai, was contacted by the syndicate through his YouTube channel (shoppingboyz) to act as their front for gold smuggling. It was the syndicate which floated the idea of him opening a retail shop, after they had obtained details of prominent advertisements put out by Vidvedaa PRG on billboards.

Sources also said that Sabir Ali had no prior retail experience, but with the seed money given by the syndicate through a Sri Lankan in Abu Dhabi, he managed to pay the deposit money which was sent through intermediaries, sources said citing the investigation.

The shop was eventually opened sometime in February this year, sources added. Sabir Ali recruited his employees on contract basis through an online job portal. According to customs authorities, Sabir Ali and his employees at Airhub earned a commission of around Rs 3 crore in the last two months.

Sources said that the customs department is also probing how the eight employees of Airhub managed to get identity cards provided by the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) as they were only contract employees who were not on the rolls of the airport concessionaire. This is a violation of airport rules, sources added.

The director of Chennai airport did not respond to a call or messages from TNIE seeking comment on the matter.

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