HYDERABAD: The temporary ban on international flights during the Covid-induced lockdown did not deter the spirits of gold smugglers operating out of Gulf countries. Making the best use of the Centre’s Vande Bharat flights, smuggling gangs got hold of Telangana emigrants, who had lost their jobs in the pandemic and were returning home in distress, to do the deed for them.
From April to November 2020, around 16 kg of smuggled gold, worth over `8.97 crore, was seized at the RGI Airport in Hyderabad. According to Customs officials who deal with gold seizures at the RGIA, a majority of passengers caught smuggling gold during the pandemic were carriers recruited by operators in Gulf countries. It was found that these passengers were paid commissions, based on the quantity of the gold being smuggled.
Most of the passengers, who had agreed to carry gold, knew that it was illegal and that they would face the music if caught. But they were in dire need of the commission amount. After losing jobs and returning home empty-handed, these migrants needed money, be it big or small. They believed that if they succeeded, they would go home with something in hand, and if caught, they wouldn’t lose much. The passengers caught with gold belonged to the northern parts of Telangana; most of them were tailors.
While handling passengers travelling on the Vande Bharat flights, Customs officials and security personnel at the RGIA had given top priority to health protocols, documentation and other procedures. As there was no physical contact with the passengers, officials may have focused relatively less on smuggling activities. “After the first few weeks, carriers may have found their way through the process. Despite protocols in place, 30 cases of gold smuggling were reported,” Customs officials said.In addition to gold, foreign-made cigarettes, foreign currency equivalent to `2.51 crore, and sandalwood and sandal oil worth over `40 lakh, were seized during the period.