Chennai airport is seeing a steady build-up of gold smuggling cases this year compared to last year.
Since April 2011, over 63 smuggling cases have been registered at Chennai airport against 45 cases last year.
A senior customs official said Sri Lankan nationals and Indian labourers returning from Malaysia were involved in most of the cases registered in Chennai.
The Lankans who had been arrested were smuggling gold to convert it into Indian rupee, which is twice in value compared to the Sri Lankan currency "And most of them wanted to use money to fund their medical treatment or shopping needs," a customs official said.
When Lankans sneak 24 carat gold to cash it in India, most of the gold found on passengers from Singapore were in the form of jewellery. The customs official said the smugglers were also using passengers who stayed more than six months abroad as couriers.
Sanjay Kumar Agarwal, commissioner of customs of Chennai airport and air cargo, said, "While it's trained carriers who smuggle gold ornaments from Malaysia, it's ordinary passengers and tourists who try to bring in gold without declaring it".
"Any undeclared gold items worth more than Rs 5 lakh will be seized and the person will be arrested on the spot. Many contract labourers and employees at Malaysian firms get caught while smuggling items for a pittance of commission," said the official.
The airport customs seized Rs 3.2 crore worth gold and registered 45 cases in 2010. In 2009, it was 51 cases and Rs 3 crore.
When Indian rules permit import of gold in bulk for banks and trade sectors, individuals have to stay more than six months abroad to bring in gold.
"Even they are supposed to produce bills and pay duty in foreign currency," said the customs official.
"Since we have tightened the rules, the quantity of smuggling has come down to 200-400 grams in recent months," Agarwal said. (Source: The Times Of India)