A toothless Customs law has apparently emboldened many young people to get into smuggling. The option to compound the offence, by paying a fine, gives them the incentive to take the plunge and prosper under the patronage of big-time racketeers.
“The move to invoke the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) against those involved in smuggling cases hasn’t come to fruition, though smugglers remain a threat to our economic security. We have no option but to temporarily invoke the easily bailable sections of the Customs Act against the suspects,” says K. Subhash Babu, a retired Superintendent of Police, who had handled many gold smuggling cases in north Kerala.
Mr. Babu points out that the local police have a very limited role in unearthing such cases or following them, as they are expected to hand them over, along with the items seized and the case files, to other enforcement agencies after a preliminary investigation. Only a police investigation can bring out the criminal activities of such gangs, he feels.
“A cursory look at the cases will tell you that many seized items are being returned to the carriers by cashing in on the loopholes in law and with the help of fabricated documents as proof,” he alleges, adding that the option to compound the offence must be done away with.
Law enforcers too
Mr. Babu is also in favour of a stronger law to curb such rackets with socio-political patronage. The recent suspension of two Customs officers of the Calicut international airport on charge of pilfering gold smuggled in by two passengers points to another disturbing trend in the trade.
While the Customs officials’ involvement was detected by a police squad, which frisked a carrier on the basis of a tip-off, the police themselves have come under a cloud on numerous occasions for alleged collusion with behind-the-scene operators.
How it works
“It’s a lucrative trade. If smugglers offer carriers something like ₹30,000 to get the gold in, the gangs that eye the consignment offer them thrice that sum, luring the carriers to double-cross,” a youth organisation leader from Kozhikode’s Koduvally, a village known for its high density of jewellery shops, explains the murky business. He points out that those on short trips to the UAE on visiting visas are mostly the soft targets of smugglers.
A 40-year-old expatriate from Kannur who has come across several cheating incidents involving Keralites reveals that gold smugglers’ rackets keenly watch the movement of people from Kerala to Dubai on visiting visas. “They have agents everywhere to approach such persons. It is better not to reveal personal travel details to anyone or accede to requests for carrying small concealed parcels on the return trip,” he cautions.
The plight of those who have been forced to flee following suspected attempts at double-crossing is miserable. Many, it is said, are living in self-imposed exile fearing backlash from racketeers. Knowing well the dangers involved, their families too refuse to spill the beans.
“Because of safety concerns, no one will report such missing cases in time to the police. In case they are traced, they are at risk of being nabbed by the smugglers or tortured by the enforcement squads,” says the leader of a prominent Pravasi Welfare Organisation.
“If the enforcement agencies are truly concerned about the rising incidents, they should improve surveillance at airports. They should also work to get the laws amended to minimise the chances of compounding the offences,” he adds.
Meanwhile, officials associated with the ongoing probe reveal that efforts are under way to get ‘red corner notice’ issued against some of the most-wanted international fugitives in smuggling cases so as to disrupt the network of gold smugglers in the State.
For now, two persons suspected of having played a key role in abducting and endangering Kozhikkunnummal Irshad will be brought back to the State, they say.