The Telegraph
 
CIMA Gallary

Golden goose killed by reforms is back

Nov. 10: Hyderabad on Thursday, Kerala on Friday and Bengal on Saturday.

Gold smugglers are back in business, feeding on recent government restrictions that are unwittingly resurrecting a cottage industry that once launched the careers of dons but was eventually relegated to Bollywood retro plots.

Over 58 kilos of the precious metal were seized from an SUV bound for Calcutta late last night. Valued at Rs 19 crore, the gold in 504 biscuits is the biggest such haul in Bengal in recent memory.

An official of the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) said the gold was found when the speeding vehicle had reached the outskirts of Behrampore town in Murshidabad. Two persons in the SUV have been arrested and identified as Jagdeep Kumar, a resident of Rajasthan, and Dipak Sarkar from Raiganj in North Dinajpur.

The biscuits were wrapped in two packets and kept in a jute bag under the passenger seat — a hiding place far less risky than that allegedly preferred by an air hostess and her techie friend in Kerala.

Hiromosa V. Sebastian, an air hostess with Air India, was on leave and was on her way back from Dubai when she was arrested at the Kozhikode international airport in north Kerala on Friday. Strapped to her back and hidden by her jeans were three bricks of gold, each weighing a kilo, according to DRI officials.

Her friend Raheela Cherayi, said to be an IT employee in the Gulf, also was carrying three bricks in a similar fashion, the officials said. Hiromosa, suspended from Air India pending the inquiry, and Raheela are in their mid-twenties.

Suresh Kumar of Visakhapatnam chose the oldest — and hence the most risky — trick in the trade. He was caught at the new Hyderabad airport with gold bars in his underwear.

Kochi, the commercial capital of Kerala, has witnessed several big hauls, prompting some officials to suspect that professional gangs had already smelt blood.

Smuggling was big business before the 1990s. “Most of the gold was smuggled then either through air cargo complexes or sea ports by using boats or dhows. Smuggling syndicates had then invested a lot of money in building infrastructure and resources for such operations,” said Kochi customs commissioner K.N. Raghavan.

But liberalisation killed the golden goose that was fattened by government-sponsored curbs. “After liberalisation and the removal of gold from the list of prohibited goods, such forms of smuggling stopped almost completely,” Raghavan added.

The recent restrictions aimed at controlling the current account deficit that had triggered panic in the currency market a few months ago have again made smuggling lucrative.

“This is on account of the increase in import duty on gold. When the import of gold was first permitted, the duty was Rs 22 per gram, which worked out to Rs 22,000 per kg. At present, it is 10 per cent ad valorem, which works out to almost Rs 3 lakh a kg. Thus, duty evaded by smuggling 1 kg of gold works out to Rs 3 lakh. This large margin provides a fillip for smuggling,” Raghavan added.

The air hostess and her friend, apparently drawn to the trade by the lure of easy money, were paid about Rs 1 lakh for every trip to India. They allegedly brought in a total of 14 kilos of gold on different runs.

According to sources, the fee is even higher for pregnant women as there is lesser risk of them being stopped while leaving airports.

Veterans say this is just the beginning and the machinations will get more complex as the trade turns more organised.

“At present, the smuggling is done by small or medium-sized groups which do not have the financial resources to use boats or air cargo complexes. So it is now confined mostly to airports, using carrier passengers. But the possibility of bigger groups or syndicates turning to gold smuggling in the near future cannot be ruled out, given the margins involved,” an official said.

THE RULES

With duty: Indian passport- holders who have stayed six months or more abroad can bring 1kg of gold in any form. But customs duty of 10 per cent plus 3 per cent cess will be imposed

Without duty: Indians returning after staying abroad for one year or more can bring jewellery worth Rs 50,000 (for men) and Rs 1 lakh (for women) duty-free

High duty: If gold is brought in any form beyond the prescribed limit, duty of 36 per cent plus cess will be imposed on declaration

Value: The value of gold will be calculated on the basis of tariff set by the finance
ministry from time to time. The current tariff value is $440 per 10gm