Goa, the new destination for smuggled gold?
Drugs may not be the only contraband to find favour in Goa now.
A rising pan-India trend of gold smuggling and sudden seizures of the yellow metal in Goa, otherwise a narcotics haven, has forced customs authorities in the state to step up vigil not only at the lone airport, but also on the sea routes to stop gold smugglers.
Earlier this week, there were three seizures at the Dabolim International Airport when two Sri Lankans and an Indian were caught with 4.12 kgs of gold valued at Rs.1.33 crore (USD 13 million) in the Indian market.
"This seems to be the beginning of a new trend. Our air intelligence staff and air customs officers could retrieve the gold and seize it. This is so far the biggest seizure," Commissioner Customs and Central Excise V.P.C. Rao told IANS. Gold smuggling, he said, has become a regular feature at the Goa airport.
The two Sri Lankans had boarded the flight as domestic passengers at Mumbai, but they had taken delivery of the gold from some passengers coming from Dubai, he said.
"The gold was stuffed in their rectums. When they were passing through the green channel, our official saw something unusual with their movement. That is how they were busted," a Customs official said.
The Indian was from Kerala and had the gold strapped on his body under his trouser.
Rao said that Customs authorities in Goa had netted gold worth Rs.2.66 crore in eight seizures since January.
"In all these cases, the passengers who brought the gold have been apprehended and arrested. The total number of persons arrested is 15. The seizures are mostly from body concealments," he said.
Not just Goa, several airports across India have seen gold seizures in recent times. The rush to smuggle gold into India, officials say, has increased after the central government has upped its efforts to rein in its burgeoning trade deficit.
Recent and repeated hikes in the import duty on gold has also added lustre to the yellow metal and added incentives to its smugglers.
Alarmed by the sharp rise of gold imports to 383 tonnes in the July 2012-April 2013 period against 205 tonnes in the previous year, the government earlier this month raised the import duty on the yellow metal from eight to 10 percent. Gold is the most expensive in Kerala at Rs.660 per 10 grams. It ranged between Rs.32,280 snf Td.32,630 in the four metros of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai.
Rao said that in most cases, domestic passengers are engaged in transfering gold from international passengers in the aircraft.
"That is what our interrogation has told us," Rao said, adding that Goa is connected to the Middle East through flights coming from Sharjah, Dubai, Doha and most of the seizures are detected in the Dubai-Goa Air India flights coming either via Mumbai or directly.
"Mostly the gold smuggled seems to be meant for Mumbai and Kerala," he said.
"There is also an apprehension that smuggling through sea may be revived because of the huge difference in domestic and international prices in Middle East. Additional measures are being taken to fight smuggling by reviving shore patrolling formations called shore guard parities," Rao said.
Goa had been a smuggling haven for gold and electronic goods in the days of yore. Through the 1970-80s, contraband activity was one of the prime launchpads for aspiring smugglers to leap into politics.
(Mayabhushan Nagvenkar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Posted on 25-08-2013)