Gold smugglers use their creativity to beat law

Gold melted into seed-shaped chips and hidden in dates coming from Dubai, bars broken into granules and mixed with other metals to make it look like ore, belts with one kg gold buckles and torches carrying gold batteries. As gold smuggling reaches unprecedented high and authorities crack down, smugglers are devising ever-new ways to bring in the yellow metal. Financial intelligence agencies say the past one year has seen some of the most shocking modus operandi by smugglers that have included methods requiring a lot of time and expenses indicating how lucrative smuggling of gold has become. This fiscal has already seen an almost 300% rise in gold smuggling compared to last and is expected to continue the rally, say sources.

According to sources in Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI), only two months ago, a passenger coming from Dubai was intercepted at Pune airport with a huge consignment of dates. Agencies had information that he was carrying gold but could not find it anywhere on his person or baggage. A close examination of the dates by ripping them open, however, revealed that it had seeds of gold. A total of 400 g of gold was recovered.

Similarly, a couple of weeks ago, customs in Bangalore found a consignment of chairs coming in by air cargo to be suspicious. When the chairs were ripped open, its springs turned out to be made of gold weighing 1.5 kg. Last week, authorities at Ahmedabad airport apprehended 5 kg gold being brought in as ore, for which one has to cough up only 5% duty.

“Smugglers are taking great pains in hiding gold. One passenger was caught recently wearing a belt with 1 kg gold buckle. He had plated it with rhodium which ensured even the metal detector does not find it. Another one had turned his gold into battery shapes to fit in torches. We would not have caught them if we did not have prior intelligence,” said a DRI official.

Indian gold smugglers are adopting the methods of drug couriers, stashing gold in imported vehicles and using mules that swallow nuggets to try to get them past airport security.

Customs officials have said that though they have increased the number of seizures, they have been able to catch only a fraction of the illegal shipments into India.

The Indian finance ministry and the central bank have acknowledged that smuggling has increased considerably but have said they will not ease the rules until they have a better grip on the trade deficit.

“All pointers are towards some kind of relaxation,” Somasundaram said. “One possibility is that they will wait for the current account deficit figure till March-end. The next possibility is that they may wait till elections (in May), but our expectation is that it will happen sometime before.”