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Updated: March 1, 2014 11:22 IST

Gold smugglers spice up treasure hunt at airport

Nidhi Surendranath
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Try to hoodwink officials by hiding gold in the unlikeliest of places

Gold smugglers are working their grey cells overtime to get past Customs and Directorate of Revenue Intelligence officials at airport security checkpoints in the State. However, Customs officials have now mastered, almost, the art of ferreting out gold that smugglers try to sneak out by hiding it in plain sight.

Security personnel at airports look for gold rods, sheets, and bricks hidden inside everyday objects carried by passengers. The Customs Department recently found a suspicious pancake maker in the luggage of a Thrissur-native who arrived here from Malaysia. Officials smashed open the pancake maker and out popped two gold bricks, each weighing a kilogram.

Those working to prevent smuggling have to stay ahead of smugglers by gathering information about potential smuggling activities.

“All our personnel are instructed to be very careful when screening passengers’ luggage during security clearance. We may also get new screening machines for improved security,” said Customs Deputy Commissioner S.A.S. Navaz.

During the last three months, Customs officials have discovered hidden gold in the most unlikely of places. A simple flower vase a passenger was bringing home from the Gulf turned out to have four sheets of gold weighing a little less than a kilogram hidden inside. Searching for hidden gold among the luggage of hundreds of passengers is akin to hunting for a needle in a haystack. Customs officials at Nedumbassery found gold concealed inside the beading of a passenger’s bags more than a month ago. At Karipur airport too, vigilant security personnel found melted gold inside an iron box.

These concealment techniques, however, are nothing new to senior officials in the Customs Department. “We’ve seen all these tricks, and some more, being employed by smugglers in the pre-1991 era. The younger officers are now being trained at spotting these too,” said Mr. Navaz. Customs officials remember finding gold concealed in the motors of washing machines, or even the thin rods of umbrellas. The tricks used to smuggle gold into a pre-liberalisation India made a comeback last year with the hike in the duty on import of gold to 10 per cent of the value.

Security agencies have also noticed the migration of several goldsmiths from Kerala to the Gulf in recent months. Smugglers recruit the goldsmiths to melt the malleable metal and beat it into various shapes so they may be concealed. Some smugglers also coat gold in mercury to change its appearance.

While the vigilance of security agencies ensures that at least some of the smugglers are caught, many carriers of illegal gold slip through the net. The sheer volume of passengers makes it close to impossible for officials to catch 100 per cent of smugglers. The fact also remains that persons caught at airports are often carriers hoping to make a quick buck.

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