Even more smuggled gold enters India
In the biggest ever catch at the Hyderabad airport, customs officials have seized 18 kilograms of gold and arrested three people. Gold bars worth over $804,826 (Rs 50 million) were seized on Friday at the international airport from passengers trying to smuggle in the precious metal. The trio had arrived from Singapore and were hiding the gold bars in their trousers and shoes. The 18 gold bars weighed one kilogram each. The gold was destined for Chennai in South India.
In another incident, officials of the customs department recovered gold hidden in dates from a man who landed at the Pune International Airport from Sharjah. The suspect has been identified as a resident of Kasargod in Kerala, who worked in Abu Dhabi. The custom sleuths found the dates wrapped in a bag. Further investigation revealed that the seeds of these dates had been replaced with gold beads wrapped in black packets. The gold beads weighed 409 grams each. An estimate on the value has not yet been put to the consignment.
From just 40 seizures last year, gold seizures have almost doubled to 73 for the period 2013-2014. A rise in smuggling attempts has been noticed through India’s neighbours like Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan, due to lax border security and through non metro cities like Hyderabad and Kochi. Custom officials speaking to newswire agencies said the lower duties and porous borders with India were responsible and that neighbouring Pakistan saw a 400% increase in imports, meant to be smuggled into India. In the two months of September and October, customs officials have seized around a ton of gold from air travellers.
India’s import curbs have opened the backdoor channels to bring in the precious metal. On Dec 18, two Sri Lankan women and a teenage girl were nabbed by the customs officials at the Bandaranaike International Airport in the Emirates, while attempting to smuggle out 676 grams of unfinished gold jewellery to India worth around $61,450 (Rs 3.8 million). In the wake of the UAE customs announcing that new restrictions would be imposed on the amount of gold jewellery a passenger could carry when leaving the country, the latest smuggling attempt has come close on the heels of the arrest of 56 Sri Lankans, on charges of smuggling over 11 kilograms of gold, at the Cochin airport in Kerala.
Though India’s Finance Ministry has stated that the incidence of gold smuggling has increased due to the hike in import duty and fluctuation in global prices, minister of state for finance J.D. Seelam told India’s Parliament that gold worth $33 million (Rs 2 billion) has been seized in the seven months through November in the current fiscal.
He told members of the House on December 19, that the seizure was $17 million (Rs 1 billion), $6 million (Rs 423 million) and $2 million (Rs 172 million) in the previous three fiscal, respectively.
He added that during April to October 2013, there were 664 cases of gold smuggling. “The increase in the cases of smuggling of gold may be partly attributed to the fluctuation of the prices of gold. With an aim to discourage gold imports, the government raised the customs duty to 10%, while that for jewellery was increased to 15%,” he said. The source of the seized gold and gold jewellery has been from travellers from the UAE, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal and Hong Kong, he said.
That smuggling of the precious metal has been on the rise is a known fact. In some cases, even the police have been in the dock. In Dubai, seven suspects, including four police officials, have been charged with stealing seven bars of gold that a cleaner found in a bag near an escalator at the Dubai International Airport.
Three of the policemen, who worked at the airport, were accused of stealing the gold bars brought in by a Ugandan visitor. The man had brought the bars weighing 25 kilograms to hand them over to an Indian jeweller in Dubai.
Incidentally, whistleblowers who help bust illegal gold shipments can get a bigger reward in India than those who help catch cocaine and heroin smugglers, given that gold smuggling has increased several fold this year.
The increasing rise in gold smuggling clearly shows that most of the finance minister’s arguments in support of the gold curbs are falling flat. However, at a recent press conference, India’s finance minister downplayed the spike in gold smuggling by stating India had imported around 835 tons of gold last year, while this year 400 tons have been imported. He noted that in total India would import around 500 tons of gold. Given the fact that the maximum gold that can be smuggled is 1 ton a month, the finance minister said only 5 tons more could be brought in through smuggling this financial year.