Indians love their gold and the high demand for the yellow metal has made it sure that smugglers keep trying to bring it into the country in the most unusual ways. Seeking to avoid the customs duty on gold, smugglers (and sometimes passengers) flying in from abroad have tried to hoodwink officers at airports by hiding it in suitcase rods, socks, deodorant bottles, alarm clocks, and up in the rectum. A few innovative hiding nooks that were reported included bandages, microwave ovens, and even RT-PCR (Covid) samples. The government increased the import duty on gold from 7.5% to 12.5% this year.
Rohit Prakash Joshi, who was former deputy commissioner of customs at Rajiv Gandhi International Airport in Hyderabad, has seen it all. Explaining why gold is smuggled in, he told News18: “Gold with 24-carat purity is not allowed to be imported without payment of duty. But some passengers try to carry 24 ct gold by making it into jewellery and wearing it on their body such as gold kada, gold chain, etc. Sometimes, the metal is concealed in small toys, the borders of trolley bags, press-irons, mixers, in place of mobile batteries, by making pockets from the inner side of clothes, etc.”
In recent years, miscreants have been converting gold into paste so that it can be concealed easily. “Recently, a new modus operandi was cracked, where smugglers are carrying gold in the form of gold paste. This paste is usually hidden in the pockets made to the waistline of pants or bottoms of pants, shirt collars, etc. Sometimes it is seen that the paste is also hidden in the objects as discussed above,” added Rohit, who is currently posted as deputy director of GST Intelligence in Kolhapur.
Types of concealers
The IRS officer explained that there are two kinds of passengers who conceal gold. The first category comprises those who try to avoid duties and carry jewellery items above the prescribed limit. Their intention is to get out of the airport without declaring the metal to customs. They usually wear the gold or hide it in luggage items.
The hardcore gold smugglers form the second category. They are the ones who go for body concealment. Gold is wrapped in plastic material in the form of capsules and those capsules are concealed in the rectum/vagina. On certain occasions, it is observed that, in connivance with different airport staff, gold is channelised outside the airport without the knowledge of customs.
However, there is another category of passengers who might not know that they are carriers for smugglers. In some cases, these goods are given to them by their relatives, friends, or any known person to hand them over to someone in the destination country. They are carrying these items in good faith without having any idea about the content of the parcel. At the same time, there is a possibility that the smuggler may pretend not being aware of the content of the parcel. “In these cases, a detailed investigation will unearth the truth and the culprit will be caught,” added Rohit.
Sometimes, a child can be used by culprits to hide the gold and avoid detection by customs.
Basic technology and some common sense
Customs officials nab gold smugglers nearly every day in major airports in India with the help of technology and astuteness. The most-used basic technology at all the airports is metal detectors and X-ray scanners. It is a practice that all the passengers are checked in the arrival hall of an international airport with the help of these metal detectors and baggage is checked with the help of X-ray scanners at various levels, before the passenger collects his/her luggage. There are some advanced technologies now, which help to detect any foreign object on the body that may look suspicious. If someone is identified with the help of these machines, then that passenger is thoroughly frisked and, if needed, the passenger has to do an X-ray scan or any other medical test as prescribed with the help of a medical practitioner.
However, the IRS officer maintains that common sense is a very crucial attribute to nabbing the offenders. “Whenever we are doing any investigation or intelligence work, we should not forget common sense. Common sense is a very crucial thing which makes our work easy. Initially, it may be difficult to identify certain unusual body movements of criminals. However, with sufficient experience, picking out suspicious people among so many passengers becomes easy. But the work does not end here with mere identification of different expressions or suspicious movements. It needs to be further investigated to confirm the crime. Sometimes these movements can be caused by the lack of knowledge of passengers regarding procedures,” said Rohit.
Talking about the largest consignment of gold seized by his team, the officer added: “It was about 11 kg gold by a single passenger, who was carrying it on the body. In another case, a group of people travelling together were caught with about 7 kg of gold. These operations are carried out by the customs department independently or in joint operations with the help of other agencies such as CISF, state police, immigration bureau, etc.”
Tips for fliers who love gold
Being informed about rules is the prerogative of the passenger. “It is always better for passengers, especially international travellers to know about the rules and regulations of the countries between which they are travelling. Ignorance of the law is not an excuse, at the same time getting inauthentic information is also dangerous. Hence, it is the responsibility of the people doing international travel to contact the proper authority or check the official website of that authority to get authentic information and follow proper procedures in order to avoid any inconvenience. Also, if anyone comes to know about someone doing mischief, he or she should inform the nearby officer immediately,” said Rohit.
Gold smuggling in India
In a paper titled ‘Golden Web’ published by a Canadian agency called Impact, the author says that India is one of the main gold capitals of the world, with almost a third of all of the world’s gold passing through its borders. The trade of illicit gold—both from Uganda to the UAE, and the UAE to India —is often financed through hawala channels. India is importing approximately 1,000 tonnes of gold per year—a quarter more than what official figures indicate, stated the paper.