Airport Customs in wait for a golden century

Written by Srinath Rao | Updated: May 21 2014, 15:34pm hrs
Mumbai AirportHaving already seized 98.4 kilos of gold in May so far, await last catch to hit a record of 100 (AP)
Tuesday evening, the Air Intelligence Unit of the Customs was busy scanning its list of international flights, one of which landing in the city from Dubai, Bangkok or Singapore would likely lead them to an unlikely achievement one that is more than 20 years in the making.

Customs at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport is poised to complete a seizure of 100 kilos of gold in a month for the first time since the early 1990s. With 10 days still to go in May, they have already seized 98.4 kilos of gold in the month so far.

In anticipation of crossing the 100-kilo mark, we have increased surveillance on ground and on aircraft. Before the clock strikes 12, we should have our record. But then again, it is only a number, said a senior Customs officer.

The AIU began to revise its own internal estimates as the weeks have worn on this month. After two Filipino passengers were caught with a total of 25 kilos of gold last week, hopes of a 100 strengthened.

May has also seen two airport employees and two airlines employees being held for smuggling gold. Nearly 15 natives of Tamil Nadu, who had allegedly concealed 600-800 grams of gold in their rectums, were also caught.

Customs officers say a better understanding of the new Terminal 2 also contributed to the increased seizures in April and May.

Tasked with securing a much larger terminal, the customs personnel have spread themselves thin to cover strategic areas. We are short-staffed, so we redeployed ourselves better to cover toilets and areas frequented by outsourced staff. We were also able to crack a new modus operandi of using airport cleaning staff and baggage loaders as carriers of gold out of the terminals, said an officer.

Customs officers have been able to successfully hit flights known to bring in high yields from Dubai, Singapore and Bangkok, the three cities which contribute the most of the gold flow into the country.

Throughout the night and the early morning hours, we know which flights the gold carriers are going to take. We always look for that one passenger who does not fit in with the rest. We also look at odd travel patterns and luggage, the officer said.

With the 100-mark a foregone conclusion, most officers are already looking ahead. We have 10 days and 20 shifts to go. In those, we should definitely seize at least 20 kilos more. Thats the new target, but on Wednesday, we will celebrate with a nice big cake with the number 100, said the officer.