Unauthorised dealers, carrying hot cash to be exchanged for foreign currencies, nag several passengers outside the international arrival hall of the Chennai airport causing huge loss to the Airports Authority of India (AAI).
The problem was persistent a couple of years ago and curbed following police raids. Now the illegal activity has reared its ugly head again right in front of the Airport Police.
When this reporter, posing as a prospective client, sought to know the exchange rate of the US dollar, a broker in business for more than a decade said: “Today’s buying price is Rs.49 a dollar at the Forex counter but I will give you Rs.52. We can negotiate and you will get a very good price.” On that day, the buying price of the US dollar at the Forex counter inside the terminal was Rs.50.25, which was less than the market rate. But, the buying price of a US dollar at a city Forex counter that day was Rs.55.63. So, if a person exchanged 100 dollars with the unauthorised broker, it would fetch him Rs.5,200 or more. The same transaction at the airport would yield Rs.5,000 and at a city counter, nearly Rs.5,500.
“A few passengers may prefer these brokers for various reasons. Firstly, it can be a hawala transaction. Secondly, they may not have to furnish documents such as passport, visa and a copy of the ticket to them at the city side of the airport. And may be they need the money urgently,” said an authorised Forex dealer.
The price at the airport is higher than the rate at a city counter because a royalty of 5.2 per cent from the gross revenue goes to the AAI.
The airport authorities are fully aware of the illegal transactions happening here.
A taxi driver at the airport, R. Nagaraj, who often receives foreign currency from several of his customers and exchanges these with the brokers, said: “These people make a minimum of Rs.10,000 to Rs.12,000 a day. They have sub-brokers who get commission if they bring customers to them. It is a much larger network than one can imagine.”
AAI sources said that when these activities were rampant two years ago, the police conducted raids, following which the brokers kept away from the airport for sometime. But, they started their activities again within a few months.
Airport Director H.S. Suresh said: “It is a menace bothering all of us. We have made representations to the police. I hope some remedial measure is taken to permanently solve the problem.”
K.P. Shanmuga Rajeswaran, Joint Commissioner of Police (South), said that strong action will be taken against these money launderers very soon. “I will see to it that frequent raids are conducted to keep these anti-socials away from the airport.”