Gold smugglers shifting base to Europe to avoid detection, say officials at Delhi airport Dec 17, 2017 10:31 IST
On December 6, a 49-year-old French national was stopped by customs officials at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA). A search led to the recovery of 191 gold medallions and gold bars worth Rs 72 lakh.
This may appear like a routine case, but customs officials say it is part of evidence that suggests gold smugglers are increasingly shifting their base to European countries.
Passengers flying in from Gulf countries like UAE and Bahrain, as well as south Asian countries — Thailand, Hong Kong, and Singapore — have always been on customs’ radar for smuggling of gold, officials say.
But in the past three months, customs has caught several passengers coming from Paris, Milan, London, Birmingham and Istanbul carrying gold illegally.
“We have seized 214 kg gold this year worth Rs 59.92 crore, which is more than what we seized last year. But more than the quantity, we have noticed gold coming from cities which were never on our radar. We have now broadened our scanning and intelligence gathering about passengers coming from European cities as well,” said a customs official, requesting anonymity.
Officials said of the 180 kg gold seized in 2016, only 500gm (that came from Rome) originated in Europe. This year, about 12 kg of the total 214 kg has been seized from people arriving from cities such as London, Paris, Frankfurt and Istanbul.
Europe new hub of gold smugglers?
Passengers arriving from Gulf are often checked for gold smuggling. But in the past 3 months, customs has caught passengers coming from Europe with gold◼Oct 28, 2017 37-year-old man arrested with gold worth Rs 66.07 lakh. He was coming from Paris
◼Nov 3, 2017 A 46-year-old man coming from London was arrested with gold worth Rs 29.7 lakh
◼Nov 10, 2017 An old couple coming from Frankfurt was arrested with gold worth Rs 25.5 lakh
◼Dec 6, 2017 Passenger coming from Paris arrested with gold worth Rs 72.3 lakh
The customs commissioner at Delhi airport directed the staff to focus on passengers coming from these new routes. Officials have been told to investigate if smugglers are trying to avoid checks by using passengers from European cities.
“We are yet to establish a link, but this has certainly emerged as a new trend. While Dubai and Bangkok continue to dominate the bulk of gold smuggling, new cities are emerging on the radar,” the officer added.
Officials said that in most cases, passengers carrying gold were of Indian origin who had settled abroad and had nationality of that country.
Delhi airport is connected with 70 international cities and with 25,000 passengers arriving every day from these cities, it becomes impossible to check every passenger. Customs officials rely on technology and profiling to catch smugglers apart from short listing cities, from where the gold could have come.
Officials say that in the aftermath of demonetisation, smuggling had reduced substantially. However, they say it has gathered pace again in the past few months.
After demonetisation, officials said the financial year also saw a significant reduction in gold smuggling. In 2015-16, customs detected 350 cases of gold smuggling and seized 450 kg gold worth Rs 110 crore. But in 2016-17, the number of cases reduced to 250 and a total of 260 kg gold was seized. A calendar year analysis shows that 34 kg more gold was seized in 2017 in comparison with the year before that.