When the coffee maker’s label was removed, a small hole — which had been soldered intact – was revealed. It was through this that gold dust has been inserted into the coffee can.

In what is a unique seizure for the Customs officials of the Mangalore International Airport, nearly 505g of gold was found on Thursday in dust form and mixed with coffee powder, in seemingly innocuous tin containers brought in by a passenger flying in from Dubai.

In all, more than Rs. 17 lakh worth of gold was seized, said Customs officials.

The gold dust was spotted after scanners revealed the contents of two tin cans to be of “an unusually different density”. On questioning, 20-year-old Mohammad Ashraf, from Kasaragod district, who arrived at 7.30 a.m. on an Air India flight from Dubai, admitted to gold dust being mixed in the container.

Details, as narrated by Customs officials, are as intriguing as the seizure: The cans, when removed from the suitcase were intact, with no visible signs of a tamper. However, when the coffee maker’s label was removed, a small hole — which had been soldered intact – was revealed. It was through this that gold dust has been inserted into the coffee can.

“We had never seen something like this, and it is through the sharp eyes of the person manning the scanner that it could be spotted,” said a Customs official. The powder had to be filtered through water, and heated and reheated – a six-hour process – to extract the gold dust, added the official.

However, as the value of the gold seized was less than Rs. 20 lakh, a criminal case was not registered. Instead of paying around Rs. 5 lakh as duty on the gold, Mr. Ashraf will have to pay nearly Rs. 10 lakh, in the form of duty and penalty, to recover the gold, said officials. The passenger is believed to be only a “carrier” in a larger network of gold smugglers.

Duty collection jumps

The latest seizure adds to the more than 12 kg of gold seized at the airport in the past five months. This is a drastic jump from the 300g of gold seized in 2012.

However, the increased seizures have had an effect and passengers have started to voluntarily declare their gold. Since November 23, Customs duty of over Rs. 4.5 crore has been collected from around 200 passengers, compared to just around Rs. 14 lakh last year, they said.

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