Recent thwarted attempt to smuggle red sanders to Colombo prompts move

Air passengers travelling to foreign destinations from the international airport here can henceforth expect more intense inspection of their baggage.

The Air Intelligence Unit (AIU) of the Customs and Central Excise Department has upped its vigilance at the terminal, which handles at least 45 flights and 5,000 passengers a day, after it thwarted a move to smuggle red sanders in the check-in baggage of three passengers bound for Colombo on board a Sri Lankan airline on February 25.

The Customs had forced the airline to land 20 minutes after it became airborne on the basis of last-minute intelligence received by the AIU. Enforcers detained them and confiscated 100 kg of the contraband.

Customs investigators said they would also monitor airline staff that routinely screened the baggage of passengers at the X-ray scanner at the terminal to detect any possible collusion with lawbreakers.

They said the smuggling of red sanders could be a rehearsal of a possible future attempt to smuggle high-value contraband, possibly drugs, to Colombo or Maldives.

Investigators said ephedrine, a compound found in cough syrups, was often smuggled through airports in southern India to Colombo and Maldives. Such consignments ended up with Latin American drug cartels that used them as precursor chemicals to manufacture amphetamine-type stimulants for street sale in the U.S. and Europe.

“Colombo and Maldives are very sensitive sectors for us due to many reasons, including national security. That 100 kg of contraband could be spirited on board a plane to Colombo despite baggage examination is a very serious matter for the Customs, which is the country’s premier border enforcement agency. Hence, we have decided to intensify the operations of the AIU and extend its scope much beyond the immediate environments of the airport,” a senior official said.

At present, the AIU has less than seven officers on airport watch at any given time. Their numbers will be increased significantly.

Efforts are on to detect collusion, if any, between smugglers and security and civilian officials at the airport.

The antecedents and contacts of trolley pushers and staff responsible for cleaning aircraft and loading and unloading baggage will come under scrutiny.

Recently, the Customs had booked a State police official attached to the emigration check-post here on the charge of abetting smuggling of gold from the Gulf.

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