Chennai-Sri Lanka gold smuggling racket: Vigil up in airports

The modus operandi involves Sri Lankan transit passengers handing over gold to employees of shops and other airport contract staff in toilets where no CCTV camera coverage is available.
Gold smuggling
Image used for representational purpose.(Express Illustration)

CHENNAI: After the Chennai customs identified the gold smuggling modus operandi that involves transit passengers and the staff of a shop at the airport, specific instructions have been given to the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) and customs officials across India to review identical loopholes at all airports.

Multiple sources confirmed the alert was given by top officials in DRI’s headquarters in New Delhi, after the case involving the owner and employees of ‘Airhub’ —the gift shop in Chennai airport—was cracked by the customs around two weeks ago.

The modus operandi involves Sri Lankan transit passengers handing over gold to employees of shops and other airport contract staff in toilets where no CCTV camera coverage is available. The gold would then be taken out through the departure gate where fewer customs officials are present. This was a well-oiled network which managed to get it past security agencies like the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) as well.

DRI and customs officials have been asked to study the modus operandi and monitor the activities of staff of various contractors at the airport, staff working with airlines and at the dozens of shops inside different terminals of the airports.

Sources said DRI officials at Cochin International Airport arrested an airport health official and a passenger from Abu Dhabi for trying to smuggle in 1.4kg gold in a similar manner on Thursday, a few days after the alert was issued.

Both were seen coming out of a toilet, they said. The duo had later confessed that they had been involved in smuggling gold in this manner multiple times in the past as well, the sources added.

At Chennai, where many contract airport staff have been found to be colluding in gold smuggling, Airports Authority of India (AAI) has planned to restrict toilets in the transit area only for passengers, sources said.

“Employees of shops in the security hold area (SHA) would not be allowed inside these toilets, sources said, thereby directly curtailing the possibility of handing over gold. Staff would have to use other toilets,” the sources added.

A top intelligence source said though DRI and customs could only look at the smuggling-related issues, there might be several lacunae in the procedures followed when contracts are handed over to shops set up in the airport, which also needs to be looked into.

‘NO shops closed for want of AEP’

Responding to the report titled ‘Shops at Chennai airport closed as staff denied entry’ published in these columns on July 4, 2024, the Airports Authority of India (AAI) on July 6 stated that only six shops are non-functional due to non-fulfilment of contractual requirements with the master concessionaire. No shops have been closed for want of Airport Entry Permits (AEPs), the AAI said.

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