The Air Intelligence Unit of the Customs was ready for this when the restrictions for importing gold were made more stringent recently. During the last week itself, the Customs intercepted and arrested three persons for attempting to smuggle gold bars through Cochin International Airport.

The interesting pattern that emerged during the arrests, said sources in the Customs Department, was that very few of them were habitual offenders. Only one person arrested recently is a frequent flier and entered the country through different airports like Mangalore, Kozhikode and Mumbai.

Almost all others belong to the mid-twenties and mostly from weak financial background. It is learnt that the carriers will be given anywhere between Rs. 15,000 and 20,000 for smuggling in one bar of gold.

Even though most of the gold smuggling activities have been traced to pockets in Malappuram, the enforcement agencies are not able to narrow down on kingpins involved. Almost always, all identifiable tracks were well covered up.

In one instance, a youth who was asked to smuggle in gold bar through CIAL, panicked at the point of exit. He left the baggage behind and walked out of the airport. He was frisked once, but when he came back to collect his baggage, the Customs officials became sure about the shady deal and seized gold bars from his person.

Even though the cab that was waiting for him outside the airport was also taken into custody, the Customs officials learnt that the car was taken on rent and neither the carrier nor the driver had any further clue to lead to the real suspect. “Most often the phone numbers given to the carriers will be fake or under false names, making it impossible to find out who commissions these assignments,” said C. Madhavan, Deputy Commissioner, Customs.

Those arrested from CIAL last week were from Kasaragod and Kannur. It is also noticed that the smugglers keep on changing the ports through which carriers are brought in, depending on the efficiency of surveillance. A series of catches made in close succession might bring down attempts for sometime. Those who are arrested for attempting to smuggle gold face imprisonment up to two years. With big fish continuing to elude the net, the trend seems not to ebb. Right now, the Customs officials have stepped up vigil and are on the lookout for those who behave suspiciously. One of the obvious giveaways to the suspect is irregular gait. In all the three cases detected last week, the gold bars were hidden inside socks.

“Many cases are detected through passenger profiling and close observation of their mannerism and behaviour. A majority of the first-timers will lose their defence the moment we stop them and start interrogating, even before the body search is made,” said Mr. Madhavan.

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