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04 March 2024

India clampdown reveals treasures: Half kilo gold in briefcase handle

By V M Sathish

Gold smuggling from the Gulf to India is continuing briskly despite the tightening of gold import rules by India’s Central Bank and several major seizures at Indian airports.

Noushad, hailing from Kannur in Kerala, who arrived at Kochi Airport from UAE last Sunday, was caught by customs officials for concealing almost half a kilo of gold in the handle of a briefcase.

The smuggled precious metal was worth about Rs1.33 million.

As the price of gold remains high in India, due to customs duty and import restrictions, the number of gold smugglers caught at various South Indian airports is on the rise, leading to the tougher measures to counter them.

India’s federal Home Ministry has directed all airports to restrict the entry of airport cleaning and maintenance staff with passes, after their involvement in recent cases of gold smuggling was revealed.

India’s Directorate of Revenue Intelligence has advised Air India about gold smuggling by its employees, after an airhostess and another crew member were arrested for gold smuggling.

Recent reports from India suggest that some leading Indian jewellery chains and/or their directors have been booked for gold smuggling or for buying gold from smugglers.

Film celebrities too have been questioned for their alleged connection with gold smugglers.

Sharjah Police recently arrested a couple of expatriates from India and Bangladesh who were trying to smuggle gold bars home by concealing them on their bodies.

As much as 20kg of gold worth Rs58 million was seized from two burqa-clad women who arrived at Kochi Airport. Twenty gold bars, each of 1kg, were found concealed in specially stitched jackets with pouches which they were wearing, with a burqa over it.

This seizure was the largest in recent history.

In the second week of December 2013, customs officers at Kochi airport arrested one passenger who arrived from Dubai with 1kg of gold hidden in his sandals.

On November 24, 2013, 10kg of gold was seized from 55 Sri Lankan nationals who arrived at Kochi airport from Colombo.

Arrests for gold smuggling have been reported from the other two airports also in Kerala, especially Karippur Airport near Kozhikode.

In the first week of January this year, 2.6kg of gold was seized from two passengers who arrived at Karippur from the Gulf.

As per the revised regulations, gold is permitted to be imported for commercial purposes only by notified agencies approved by the Director General of Foreign Trade.

Among the approved agencies are Metals and Minerals Trading Corporation limited (MMTC), Handicraft and Handloom Export Corporation (HHEC), State Trading Corporation (STC), Project and Equipment Corporation (PEC), STCL; MSTC, Diamond India Limited, Gem & Jewellery Export Promotion Council or any other agency authorised by Reserve Bank of India (RBI).

Even banks importing gold are barred from bringing in coins and medallions.

According to Indian customs officials, the Reserve Bank of India has tightened gold import rules, requiring importers to use at 20 per cent of their gold purchases for export.

As legal channels of gold import are restricted, jewellers in India are reportedly buying the yellow metal from organised smugglers, sometimes classifying their purchases from smugglers as ‘scrap gold’.

Authorities in India recently intensified measures to control gold smuggling.

Indian jewellers have been asked to report all transactions of Rs 500,000 or above to the tax authorities. With the number of Indians carrying gold through legal and illegal channels increasing, the tax authorities in India have begun collecting details including their source of income. Gold carriers may be asked to pay wealth tax too.

Many gold smugglers in the Gulf are luring non-resident Indians who have spent more than six months abroad to carry gold home in exchange for free air tickets and compensation ranging from Rs50,000 to Rs75,000.

Any Indian man who has lived abroad for six months is entitled to carry gold worth Rs 50,000 while the limit for women is Rs100,000.