THRISSUR: It seems that law enforcement agencies are yet to fully assess the magnitude of gold smuggling activities in the State, if the recent developments are any indication.
The incident wherein gold smugglers tried to influence a judge hearing their case by offering a huge amount as bribe has come as a shock to investigation agencies. “The smugglers offered bribe to the judge to stop proceedings in the case, after their bid to influence the Customs officials failed,” said a senior Customs official who is investigating the case. “When their attempt to entice officials of the Special Investigation and Intelligence Branch (SIIB) failed, the smugglers had warned the officials of dire consequences. If we lodge a complaint with the Vigilance or initiate a police investigation parallel to the Customs probe, into the attempt to bribe the officials, it would affect progress of the ongoing investigation. That is why the officials refrained from lodging Vigilance complaint against the accused,” said officials.
Interestingly, the bribe was offered in person by close aides of the gold smuggling accused. The smugglers have already completed eight months of their one-year detention under the Conservation of Foreign Exchange and Prevention of Smuggling Activities (COFAPOSA). They offered `25 lakh to the judge for relieving them from spending the remaining four months in jail. They also seemed to have expected that an early release from preventive detention would allow them to defend attachment of their property to some extent, citing the court order.
Gold smuggling accused Noushad K (kingpin of the racket), Faisal, Jabin K Basheer, Shenoy K and Yasir Ibnu Muhammad were served notice by a competent authority in Chennai for attachment of their properties,in connection with case.
The officials said they could not recover the entire gold that was smuggled in, and that there were powerful persons behind the racket. “The accused continue to enjoy patronage of these tycoons who control the smuggling mafia, which is evident from the gold seizure made by Customs officials in recent times,” they said. Even after busting the smuggling racket in May 2015, the Cochin Customs seized over 100 kg of gold in the last fiscal year. The quantity of gold seized in in 2014-15 and 2013-14 was 82.23 kg and 43.73 kg, respectively.
In one of the smuggling incidents, Mangaluru-based smugglers had tried to smuggle gold by concealing the contraband in the petrol tank of a BMW Mini Cooper car, which was imported to Kochi from Dubai. The investigation into the case has not made any headway as the accused are in Dubai.
Though the ‘cargo route’ is risky and time-consuming, it allows smugglers to transport large quantities of gold. However, investigation officers have not ruled out the possibility of smugglers using the cargo route, and a crackdown based on airports has been launched.