Grime on the gold: The notorious connection between gold smuggling and ‘missing‘ cases in north Kerala

Investigation into many ‘missing’ cases in north Kerala has unfurled murky dealings, centred on the Calicut airport, between gold smugglers and carriers. Youths who turn carriers for easy money at times double-cross for more gains. The consequences are extremely unpleasant.

Updated - August 19, 2022 02:26 pm IST

Published - August 18, 2022 07:23 pm IST - KOZHIKODE

On August 8, Vadakkekandi Deepak’s house in Kozhikode’s Meppayur village witnessed an unsettling scene. In the presence of their close relatives, the family handed over the accidentally cremated mortal remains of Panthirikkara native Kozhikkunnummal Irshad to his family members. Inspector K. Susheer, who cracked the mystery behind Irshad’s missing, was present on the spot to oversee the agonising procedure. And, Deepak’s family remained equally shaken as their two-month-long search for the missing youth came to naught all over again.

Also read: Cops crack trickery behind alleged abduction cases in Kozhikode

Irshad’s suspected murder by a gold smugglers’ gang, allegedly for double-crossing, gave many families the jitters. Like Deepak’s, for instance, which mistook Irshad’s body for that of their missing relative and cremated it. A number of similar incidents came to light in no time. Surprisingly, many such cases were being withheld by families or remaining undiscovered.

Long weeks of torture

According to Irshad’s father Nasser, his son was murdered after long weeks of torture in captivity. For the Kozhikode Rural police, the case opened a can of worms after the arrest of three suspects. They found that several ‘abduction’ cases were in fact smugglers/carriers going into hiding to escape the wrath of gold racketeers they betrayed.

“Most recently, the probe into the missing of Chekkiyad native V.P. Rijesh, which was reported as a suspected case of abduction, uncovered the secret role played by his own relatives to hide him. We found that the man, who went ‘missing’ from Kannur airport on June 15 after his arrival from Qatar, was staying undercover with his family members in Bengaluru,” said Valayam sub-inspector A. Ajeesh, who investigated the case.

Brother’s complaint

The police tracked down Rijesh’s hideout based on a complaint filed by his brother, who was reportedly unaware of the plan. About 15 persons, who were in touch with the 33-year-old over telephone during the missing period, were quizzed to crack the case. Though he claimed that he fled to Bengaluru to evade his debtors, the police found the claim implausible.  

Although there are 13 such suspected missing incidents in northern Kerala alone, the police constituted a Special Investigation Team (SIT) in just two cases. According to District Police Chief (Kozhikode Rural) R. Karuppasamy, the formation of SIT depends upon the nature of the case. “We have formed one for the missing case of Deepak. There are no other SITs,” he said.

Also read: Gold smuggling in one decade: Kerala ranks third in country

The SIT has managed to crack the mystery behind the disappearance of Irshad but there is hardly any clue about Deepak, who was reported missing on June 7. And the SIT remains tight-lipped about the progress of the inquiry.

Pursuit of breakthrough

According to them, many of the ‘missing’ persons are voluntarily approaching them seeking protection. They cite the case of a person named Anaz, from Nadapuram, who was earlier reported to have been abducted by gold smugglers. “It is clear that rivalry is now between gold smugglers and carriers over double-crossing. The role of the police here is tough as there are no innocent complainants or victims. We are still expecting some breakthrough,” a senior police officer overseeing the investigation into these cases told The Hindu.

He claimed that the invisible network driving the trade could be busted with a follow-up of various dormant gold seizure cases in Kozhikode and Kannur airports. The police, he said, had limitations in monitoring the goings-on in an airport.  “Some activities remain undisclosed at the source itself. Double-crossing is a game played by partners in an illicit trade. And, there are hardly any innocent victims who are unaware of the risks,” he added.

Also read: Customs superintendent at Calicut airport land in police net while handing over gold to two passengers

Mistaken identity

Omassery native Abdul Azeez has the other side of the story. Azeez, 38, said he was abducted in 2014 by a gold smugglers’ gang that masqueraded as an enforcement squad. He was tortured for three days for information about smuggled gold. “The lure of a few quick bucks makes many innocent expatriates fall prey to international smugglers,” he said, adding that he was picked up on a mistaken identity as a carrier.

“No one would believe me then as I was working at a local jewellery shop. I have been living with injuries to my spine and ribs inflicted by abductors. A few sincere police officers stood by me to prove my innocence. The majority, including my close relatives, treated me like a carrier and avoided me,” he recounted.

After several days of torture, the gang abandoned him in a critical condition near a hospital from where he was admitted to the ICU, he said. “All of us should be cautious. Many such gangs, schooled in torturing carriers who resort to double-crossing, have been focusing on the Calicut international airport,” he said.

Accident gives a clue

It was an investigation into a major road accident near the Calicut international airport last year that helped the police uncover the gold smugglers’ international network for recovering smuggled gold from carriers, who defraud the main agents eyeing bigger returns. Five persons, who were part of one such gang that came in search of a carrier to grab 2.33 kg of gold, lost their lives in the accident.

“The arrest of the entire gang led by Kannur native Arjun Ayanki and his close aides brought to light a series of similar incidents. Since June 2021, the police and Customs have been after such cases,” said a Deputy Superintendent of Police who was previously associated with the probe. The arrests were all recorded on the basis of strong incriminating evidence, he said.

For the Customs Preventive officers, the number of seizures made at the Calicut international airport itself showed the degree of diligence shown by the agency to scythe the network.

Customs Superintendent M. Prakash said that the Preventive division in Kozhikode city had booked 80 cases in 2022, seizing gold worth ₹33 crore. “The majority of the carriers were Kozhikode natives and they did it for modest rewards without understanding the risks involved,” he told The Hindu.

The police officers associated with probes into some of these cases alleged that a nexus between some politicians and overseas smugglers emboldened the local goons to go after betrayers. With most carriers, caught with small quantities of smuggled gold, securing bail easily, freshers are tempted to get on board for a few fast bucks, they said.

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