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Gold protest at airport

Chennai, Aug. 3: Protesters have set a new gold standard — by raising slogans in favour of four smugglers.

Some 20 people shouted slogans outside the customs enclosure in the arrival area of the international terminal at Chennai airport this morning, demanding that authorities release the four passengers they had detained for trying to smuggle in gold biscuits.

Acting on a tip-off, customs authorities had started frisking all passengers. Among the passengers were Peer Mohammed, Nainar Mohammed, Basheer and Kroshi, who had arrived by an early-morning flight from Singapore.

Seeing the passengers being frisked, Nainar threw 2.75kg of gold into a conveyor belt from his baggage. The contraband was quickly seized.

Further checking led to the recovery of 1.5kg of gold concealed in a rice cooker from the baggage of Basheer. The value of the seized gold was estimated to be Rs 1.5 crore.

Seeing the seizure, Peer Mohammed and Kroshi started questioning the customs officials for targeting only their group. All four were taken to the cabin of a customs officer to be interrogated about their handler in Chennai.

Soon, a group of 20 men barged into the arrival hall, went towards the customs enclosure and shouted slogans demanding the release of the four detained men. They also threatened the officer in charge with dire consequences before dispersing.

On being alerted, a police team caught five of the protesters from a housing colony near the airport. “We are questioning them to find out who sent them. We will also be filing cases against them for entering a restricted area and threatening a government official,” an airport police officer said.

The customs have alerted the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence about the incident.

Chennai has emerged as a hub for smuggling gold from South East Asia and gold smugglers regularly send couriers to Singapore and Malaysia, posing as passengers, with the purpose of smuggling back gold. The couriers are called “kuruvis” (sparrows).

According to DRI sources, 80kg of gold has been seized in Tamil Nadu this year till last week, of which 45kg of gold was brought by flights to Chennai in just four days in June.

In 2013, more than 200kg of gold had been seized in the state. There is a huge demand for smuggled gold from gold merchants in Chennai, Coimbatore, Madurai, Kochi, Kozhikode and Thrissur because of the high duty on gold imports.

The increase in import duty of gold from 2 per cent in 2012 to 12 per cent in 2014 has brought down gold imports through the legal route, increasing the demand for smuggled gold.

After the customs vigil was tightened at Chennai, smugglers started routing gold through Tiruchy and Coimbatore airports, taking advantage of shortage of customs staff there.

DRI sources said gold is also smuggled through the sea route using boats from Thalaimannar in north-west Sri Lanka to coastal Tamil Nadu. The sources said over 150kg of smuggled gold had been seized from half a dozen villages in Tamil Nadu since December 2013. “The gold reaches Sri Lanka from Dubai and then is smuggled into India using motorised fishing boats,” said a DRI official.

Gold can be brought back as personal jewellery, subject to certain restrictions.