Smuggling bust casts pall on jeweler

The Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) has made a breakthrough in a gold smuggling case, after it arrested a director of a jewellery chain in Kerala. It informed the additional chief judicial magistrate, or ACJM, economic offences, Ernakulam, that evidence had been found against the chain. Ashraf, director of the Kozhikode-based Malabar Gold, told sleuths he had bought 10 kg of gold from Shahabas, the kingpin of the smuggling racket. Shahabas, who had smuggled 39 kg through carriers, was arrested in Bangalore recently. The ACJM on Tuesday sent Shahabas to DRI custody for five days.
On Monday, DRI had raided the corporate office of Malabar Gold at Kozhikode. C P Udayabhanu, DRI advocate, said the group had been dealing in smuggled gold.
Ashraff, director of Malabar Gold, told DRI sleuths he had bought 10 kg of gold from a smuggler Shahabas
Shahabas, who had smuggled 39 kg through carriers, was arrested in Bangalore recently
There has been a spurt in smuggling after the Centre imposed a heavy duty on gold imports. According to estimates, about 600 kg had been smuggled into Kerala in three months
In four weeks, 80 kg had been seized from Kochi, Kozhikode and Thiruvananthapuram airports
Recently, an Air India Express air hostess and friend were arrested
DRI informed the ACJM they had questioned Ashraf based on the revelations of Shahabas. It gave a report on its findings. However, M P Ahamed, chairman, Malabar Gold, denied the reports saying his group had not been involved in the business of smuggled gold. In a conference on Monday, Ahamed said Ashraf was an employee in the purchase department and not a director, as stated by the DRI. “We have 20 years of good record in jewellery. We are ready to produce accounts before any inspecting agency.” Meanwhile, Ashraf told DRI the firm had purchased 10 kg from Shahabas, but there was no awareness it was smuggled. There has been a spurt in the detection of smuggling through airports in Kerala, after the Centre imposed heavy import duty on gold.
On Tuesday, 2.5 kg was seized at the Kozhikode airport from a Thrissur resident, returning from Sharjah. Bars were hidden in an emergency lamp. On Monday, 56 Sri Lankans carrying gold ornaments were arrested at Kochi airport.
In four weeks, 80 kg had been seized at Kochi, Kozhikode and Thiruvananthapuram airports. In six months, smuggling has increased sevenfold. It is estimated at least three tons have landed in the country since the government imposed the duty.
From June to October, the legal import was 125 tons, compared with 304 tons in April and May. Kerala has became a safe haven for smuggling, thanks to the alleged political clout enjoyed by the smugglers here. Kochi and Kozhikode airports are considered the safest routes. Chennai airport is also preferred in the south. Sources said 600 kg had been smuggled into Kerala during in three months.
Recently, an Air India Express air hostess and friend were arrested for smuggling. In September, Customs officials nabbed two woman passengers carrying 20 kg of ` 5.8 crore. The bars were found in specially designed jackets, over which they had worn burkas. The racket also uses pregnant women and disabled persons. A carrier gets ` 1,00,000, and smugglers at least ` 4,00,000 a kg. Smuggling is mostly in northern districts: Kozhikode, Kannur, Malappuram and Kasargode. This is linked to hawala money in the Gulf, as gold is widely used for hawala transactions. Agencies suspect funds for terror activities are being routed through this channel.
Fayas Thondavida, arrested on September 19, has contacts with political leaders and actors of Malayalam and Tamil movies. The racket allegedly also uses celebrities to carry out the illegal trade. The Customs department, DRI and Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) could arrest only a few women carriers. “This is a global racket and we cannot bust this. This will continue as their political clout is deep,” said a customs officer. The police had arrested three Customs officers, including a deputy commissioner. A number of officers were interrogated by various agencies.
A majority of the recent seizures by DRI were on passengers cleared by the Customs. In a recent panel discussion on a TV channel, a man called Bilal, based in Dubai, challenged the government agencies to curb smuggling. He said they would continue doing it “at any cost.” “We have no fear of Customs, CBI or National Investigation Agency, we will continue our operations.” Koduvalli, a small town in Kozhikode, is a hub of smuggling and hawala. It has the most jewellers in Kerala. A few arrested carriers belonged to this place.
Source: business-standard

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