Gold smuggling, widely viewed as an economic offence, has gained a criminal edge.
The latest high-profile episode attributed to increasing violent crime associated with gold smuggling was the attack on Customs enforcers at suburban Nellinadu in Thiruvananthapuram.
By some accounts, a criminal gang unleashed violence against Customs enforcers who were tailing a consignment of contraband gold smuggled into the country by a Ponnani-based team in Malappuram. The details of the attack remained sketchy.
Gold smuggling, an old-fashioned crime, had resurged after the Central government hiked the excise duty on bullion to reduce the country’s count account deficit.
Kerala witnessed a spate of brazen feuding between gold smuggling gangs and hawala networks that provide the financial lifeline for the internet racket.
Officials said gold smuggling has ceased to be a soft crime with no victim other than the public exchequer.
Last week, a suspected gold smuggler tried to mow down a Customs team with his car, injuring three enforcers at Chirayil Chungam, near Karipur, in Malappuram district.
Gulf-based gold smuggling gangs that profit by dodging import duties sit at the apex of the Kerala end of the international racket. They employ a mix of seasoned carriers and enterprising amateurs, mostly expatriates doing low-paid jobs, to smuggle gold into the country using ingenious methods.
Last week, the Customs Air Intelligence Unit at the Thiruvananthapuram international airport arrested a Gulf returnee for gold smuggling. They recovered six towels soaked in a gold solution. The contraband weighed nearly two kg.
Often, smugglers themselves become targets. Gangs posing as law enforcers ambush them for their contraband. They have also harmed and sometimes killed those suspected to be Customs or police spies in their network. Some lawbreakers in the jewellery and bullion trade profit from the tax differential.
Contraband gold comes into the country mainly from the Gulf market, where it is taxed relatively less, and bulk purchases are encouraged.