Masks, social distancing and minimum interaction at airports, it looks like gold smugglers in Kerala have found a golden opportunity to resume their work, as flights reopened after COVID-19 restrictions. Reportedly, just within the last 48 hours, six gold smuggling cases have come to light in the Indian state.
“Return of the gold smugglers, in masks,” posted @veeyemje, a Twitter user.
While airport authorities’ attention turned to COVID-19 preventive measures, smugglers are trying to make up for lost time. They were unable to operate during the three-month lockdown. Reportedly, illegal transportation of gold saw a decline in the past three months, owing to the global outbreak of the pandemic.
The state’s Customs Department had to up its vigil to bust gold smuggling rackets. Hiding gold in cavities and swallowing gold capsules, are old methods. Reports say that the latest methods are ingenious. Smugglers are resorting to hiding gold in date seeds, bra straps, belt buckles, shoe soles, sausages and even gold paste, as prices of the precious metal skyrocket in the country.
Facebook user Reema Kurup shared news reports and posted: “Pandemic or not, gold smuggling continues unabated in Kerala.”
Last week, a passenger who landed in Kozhikkode airport was detained after he was found wearing a shoe with its sole made of 500gms of gold. Meanwhile, in Kannur, a woman passenger was found hiding gold paste mixed with some impurities in her inner wear. Officials have admitted that gold paste is difficult to detect once it is covered with some impurities.
Another woman was found carrying a water bottle made of gold, for her baby, say news reports.
Apparently, India is one of the main gold capitals of the world, with almost a third of all of the world’s gold passing through its borders. Goldsmiths across the country stand ready to buy gold from traders and turn it into bullion or jewellery. They ask few, if any, questions about the gold’s origins or whether
it’s been legally imported into the country.
And, since Kerala’s love for gold is well known, it is not surprising that Kerala tops the country, in terms of gold seizure. “During the last financial year, 550kg gold was seized from four airports of the state. At least half of this quantity is from Kozhikode international airport. True, we are hit badly due to Covid-19 but we will not lower our guard come what may,” said Sumit Kumar, Customs Commissioner in-charge of Kerala and Lakshadweep region, according to an article on Indian news website hindustantimes.com.
Gold smuggling is highly lucrative. Reportedly, “One kg smuggled gold saves at least Rs500,000 (Dh24,266) in duties. Usually, carriers are given 10 per cent and ground handlers get another 10 per cent. Rest is profit,” said a jewellery owner, according to the article.
This time, however, smugglers are hiring unemployed people who are desperate to return home due to COVID-19.
According to a report on newindianexpress.com, a customs official said: “Most of the carriers we arrested in recent days were people who had lost their job. The smugglers pay for their air tickets and promise remuneration. Some fall into the trap easily.”