Set of trolley-pushers part of racket: police

The Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) guarding the international airport in Thiruvananthapuram on Sunday busted a well-entrenched racket that profited from illegal diversion of foreign liquor from the facility’s duty-free shop for sale in the local black market.

Following the CISF action, the police arrested two persons, including a self-styled labour union leader of a section of airport trolley-pushers.

The underworld-linked racketeers, which had a set of trolley pushers on their payroll, also ran an airport-centred illegal foreign exchange business.

Airport sources said a private manpower supply agency, contracted by the Union government, supplied the labourers whose ‘sole job’ was to ensure that trolleys were always kept neatly stacked and at hand for air passengers to cart their baggage in and out of the airport.

The airport authorities had issued trolley-pushers, less than 50 in number and working in shifts in 15-member teams, identity cards, on the basis of police clearance certificates, which granted them access to the arrival, customs, and immigration clearance halls of the airport.

State police investigators, now handling the case, said a set of trolley-pushers misused this access to facilitate the illicit liquor trade.

International air passengers alighting at the airport can purchase up to two litres of foreign liquor at tax-free rate from the duty-free shop. They have to submit a copy of their passport and air-ticket at the shop to make the purchase.

The police said certain trolley-pushers canvassed air-passengers, promising them a higher exchange rate for their foreign currency and offering to cart their luggage to their vehicles, to buy them liquor bottles from the duty-free shop.

Agents of the racketeers would be on a stake out in front of the airport to compensate the passengers and receive the liquor bottles from them. The CISF had arrested one of the kingpins of the racket when such a transaction was on. The police said the racketeers made a minimum profit of Rs.500 for every liquor bottle sold in the black market.

They said they would inspect the duty-free shop records to find out the actual volume of daily sales and sent a report to the Union government and watchdog agencies such as the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence.

The police said they had also identified a set of trolley pushers who doubled as middlemen for corrupt Customs officials, professional smugglers, and air-passengers seeking to evade or pay less duty on their imports. The same set bargained with corrupt airline staff to allow passengers who pay them to carry more baggage than allowed on international flights.

The police said the practice was fraught with danger for air-passengers as overloaded flights required more runway length, fuel, time, and thrust to get safely airborne.

The CISF had recently cracked down on the airport-centred illegal foreign currency racket. It had used surveillance cameras and plainclothes men to apprehend touts who, with the backing of certain local thugs, openly accosted passengers in front of the airport and offered to buy foreign currency of any denomination from them at high rates.