Customs enforcers on Sunday inspected an air cargo consignment addressed to the Consular General of the United Arab Emirates here and found 30 kg of gold concealed in imported plumbing material.
Officials valued the contraband at ₹15 crore. The shipment had arrived at the international airport here five days ago. It was kept unopened pending customs clearance at the air cargo complex.
Possibly acting on a tipoff, Customs enforcers summoned consulate officials to the air cargo complex and opened the shipment in their presence. They found the gold concealed in cylindrical form inside pipes, faucets and an air-compressor. The UAE consulate has denied any knowledge of the smuggling operation.
Customs investigators said local people working for the consulate were under their scrutiny. They said investigators might have uncovered a part of an international gold smuggling operation using diplomatic goodwill as a cover. The method of operation was, arguably, hitherto unreported. The Customs rarely conducted intrusive inspections of shipments imported by foreign diplomats. It, often as a rule of thumb, accepted the testimonial given by foreign embassy and consular officials.
An official said the consulate here regularly flew in large shipments from abroad via the international airport here. “All such consignments are now suspect,” he said.
The operation spanned international borders and seemed well-entrenched given its audacity. The method of concealment and the quantity of gold imported illegally testified to its scale.
Investigators said it was not a single-carrier operation and involved operators in the UAE and their collaborators in Kerala. “It has all the markings of an operation carried out with insider help. The suspects could include consular staff, airport insiders and their local collaborators,” they said,
Investigators said the smuggling ring could have raked in a profit of ₹1.5 crore if they had succeeded. The differential between the price of gold in the country and abroad had caused a resurgence in gold smuggling. The Central government had hiked the tax on gold to make up for the country’s yawning current account deficit.
Rise in smuggling
It also caused a startling increase in the amount of gold smuggled into the country using educated women, blue-collar workers, expatriates and professionals as carriers. Gold smuggling has also spawned a financially powerful mafia with international links.