Excise officials accused of abetting smuggling
The Excise Department has found that a set of its enforcers manning two border check-posts in Palakkad district had allegedly abetted large-scale smuggling of contraband spirit into the State from Tamil Nadu to help illicit retailers, including certain toddy shop owners in northern Kerala, profit from the huge black market demand for cheap liquor this festival season.
The finding comes close on the heels of the suspension of five excise enforcers attached to the Aryankavu check-post in Kollam district on similar charges on Monday.
The Palakkad end of the suspected State-wide smuggling racket came to light on August 12 when Excise Circle Inspector V. Sulesh Kumar and team seized a lorry containing 3,150 litres of spirit.
A subsequent departmental inquiry found that excise enforcers at Velanthavalam and Gopalapuram, two minor border check-posts in Palakkad district, had inspected the same lorry several times in August, authenticated its cargo as “tiles”, and allowed it to enter the State.
The Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau, which unearthed the Aryankavu end of the racket on August 24, had accused the suspended excise officials of “fraudulently authenticating” several consignments of contraband spirit as “salt” to aid smugglers.
Excise investigators also found that certain office-bearers of one its influential staff unions had actively lobbied for posting the suspect officers to these key check-posts well before Onam.
They said smugglers paid corrupt check-post officials at least Rs.65,000 for every load of spirit that entered the State. The contraband spirit was mixed with toddy and retailed through licensed toddy outlets in northern and central Kerala.
A set of businessmen had leased the toddy outlets this year in the name of toddy tappers, who were merely, name-lenders.
Inter-State spirit smugglers used cleverly altered “system vehicles”, the Excise Department’s phraseology for stolen cargo vehicles equipped with secret chambers to conceal contraband spirit, for their operations.
Secret warehouses in Koilpetty, Madurai, Tirunelveli, and Puducherry have emerged as staging points to smuggle spirit into the State, the investigators said.