The Gulf-based gold smugglers seem to have altered their method of operation to fox the limited overseas intelligence network of the country’s border enforcement agencies, according to Customs and Central Excise and Directorate of Revenue Intelligence enforcers here.

Citing the case of the state-of-affairs in Dubai airport, the enforcers said carriers bound for India often stated the amount of gold they were carrying at the declaration counter there and also produced authentic bills for the same.

Subsequently, to deceive informants, if any, they would hand over the gold to an associate of theirs bound on a different flight to India at the security hold of the airport (the hall where passengers wait to board their flight after security clearance).

The informants of the agencies rely mostly on the intelligence they gather from the airport’s declaration counter and its duty free shops to alert their handlers in airports in Kerala other States.

However, in the past several weeks, specific tip-offs, including the passenger name record of suspected carriers, from such informants have turned out to be false leads, a senior enforcer said.

The Customs and the DRI had registered a steep increase in gold seizures this year, chiefly owing to the resurgence in gold smuggling due to the hike in its import duty (up to 10 per cent recently to reduce the country’s worrying current account deficit).

According to the enforcers, gold is smuggled into India chiefly from Dubai, Sri Lanka, Singapore and rarely, Bangladesh (land route).

The main mode of smuggling gold is body concealment by air passengers. Infrequently, gold is also smuggled into the country from the Gulf through international courier networks.

Predictive profiling of passengers, to detect professional carriers among them, and specific intelligence from sources based in foreign airports helped the agencies in Kerala seize not less than 110 kg of contraband gold in the past three months alone.

However, the seizures dwindled following the arrests of two carriers, both women, and their alleged collaborators, including an influential middleman and two enforcers, in Kochi last month.

(The DRI, surprisingly, had seized 32 kg of gold in Chennai and 9 kg in Kerala after Customs enforcers uncovered the Nedumbassery airport-based “Fayaz” network).

The enforcers said gold smuggling was bound to increase prior to Christmas, when the demand for the precious metal was likely to peak further.

Moreover, the Gulf-based hawala networks (an illegal and largely anonymous cash transfer method opted by those who wish to avoid normal banking channels for different reasons) now preferred to compensate their agents in the country using smuggled gold because of its “instant liquidity”.