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Authorities facing difficulty to identify smuggled gold due to defacing

Myanmar has created several melting units on the borders of West Bengal and North-East solely to hide the identity of these gold bars to evade duty

Shrimi Choudhary  |  New Delhi 

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Customs authorities are facing the gruelling task of tracking down syndicators behind smuggled gold from Myanmar.

This is because the gold brought to India was being defaced and melted to remove the foreign marking.

According to officials, Myanmar has created several melting units on the borders of West Bengal and North-East solely to hide the identity of these gold bars to evade duty.

According to a senior official, the (DRI) has asked World Gold Council (WGC) to investigate the issue at the global level so that countries would take action against these melting units created for illegal purposes. There is an organised international syndicate that is suspected to be behind this and are entering India through land borders.

According to official estimates so far, about 3.5 tonne (3,500 kgs) of gold and gold jewellery worth over Rs 1,000 crore was seized by the intelligence agency in the current financial year. The surge in the smuggling continued in two consecutive years post-demonetisation.

In the financial year 2017-18, the custom department seized 3,225 kgs of gold valued at Rs 974 crore. This was an increase of 100 per cent from 1,422 kg, worth Rs 472 crore seized during the year of note ban.

Of the total seizures in 2018-19 so far, 25 per cent was made in Kolkata, Siliguri, Assam, Guwahati and some areas of the North-East. Some of the smuggled gold had also been transported to Metro cities like Chennai and Mumbai, said a DRI official privy to the development.

There could be possibility that the high duties and the increasing gap of gold prices between India and Myanmar has made the country the favourite route for smuggling, official said.

The syndicators are taking advantage of Manipur’s 400-km porous international border. Official also suspect that free movement of citizens from Manipur’s border town of Moreh has made the area prone to illicit trafficking of gold.

These gold bars are mostly entering through land routes as chances of detection are high through sea and cargo route which is not making the transportation feasible for the smugglers. However, the smugglers kept adopting new methods to carry the smuggled gold, added official. Recently, the DRI arrested a Dubai-based businessman for deploying 70 carriers to bring foreign currencies illegally from India and also smuggled gold from Dubai to different cities in India.

As the demand for gold is immense, custom officials have been witnessing unique modus operandi to smuggle the yellow metal. There are cases of concealing the yellow metal in the rectum, battery box, air-filter of vehicle and cavity of the hair straightening irons, among others. Some of them also tried to conceal the gold in powder form mixed with the energy drink.

A WGG report says that India, the world’s second biggest buyer of the precious metal, consumes 800-900 tonnes of gold annually. Two-thirds of the country’s gold demand comes from rural areas.

First Published: Sat, February 23 2019. 23:07 IST