The international network that smuggled contraband gold into the country via air cargo shipments addressed to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) consulate here had gone through a dry run of the exercise in June last year, according to senior customs investigators.
The accused had rehearsed the smuggling operation to gain an understanding of how Customs inspectors at the air cargo complex at the international airport here dealt with cargo send to the mission from the UAE.
The accused accurately gauged the measure of immunity from examination accorded to consulate cargo by Customs officials and found it suited their illegal purpose. Investigators said the Dubai end of the network “headed” by Faisil Fareed, a business person from Thrissur, first sent relatively lesser amounts of gold concealed in canisters containing car wash.
(The UAE authorities have arrested Fareed in Dubai and promised to extradite him to India at the earliest).
In later consignments, the accused hid the contraband in microwave ovens and other electronic equipment. By January 2020, the gang had perfected the technique of secreting gold in a cylindrical form in bathroom fittings and imported piping.
The Customs said “a consulate insider,” a UAE citizen, facilitated the smuggling operation by providing the receipted invoice for the consignments from Dubai. He also allegedly offered the papers to generate the shipments from the Dubai-end.
The network purportedly paid its “consulate collaborator” ₹1.25 lakh in US dollars for every unbeaten smuggling run. Investigators have moved the Ministry of External Affairs to request the UAE government to record his statement. The official had left Kerala for UAE recently.
Customs officials said Sandeep extricated the gold from concealment at his house at Nedumangad. They seized discarded ovens and bathroom fittings from his home in ‘incriminating’ numbers.
At least 15 times
Investigators said the accused had smuggled gold into the country via the diplomatic route at least 15 times. Swapna Suresh and Sarith, both former consulate employees, allegedly handled the clearance and provided the consulate paperwork for Customs exemption from cargo examination.
Sandeep allegedly transferred the contraband to Rameez who sold the gold to jewellers and ornament makers and handled bookkeeping. Investigators said Rameez raised the finance for buying the gold and used hawala routes to transfer the cash to operators at the Dubai end. The Customs were examining air cargo records relating to imports to the consulate since 2017 to identify other operators, if any, at the UAE end.