ABU DHABI: Asst Commissioner of Customs Kiran Karlapu says credit goes to team of 100 officers who put in extra hours for haul worth around Rs 250 crore and previous best was 346kg in 2013.
Dubai Customs officers have a lot to smile about – they’ve just set a record by seizing 1,000 kg of gold at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport this year. On Saturday, Dongri resident Meraj Shaikh who arrived from Dubai, was intercepted on suspicion and found carrying 700 grams of gold in hand baggage. This took the amount of gold seized by Customs this year past the 1,000-kg mark, an all-time-high. Officials said the haul could be worth approximately Rs 250 crore. The previous highest haul in a year was 346 kg, seized in 2013. With import duty on gold set at 10% in the last budget, smuggling shot up dramatically. But with Air Intelligence Unit of the Customs on constant vigil, a large amount of this illegal exchange was intercepted. Assistant Commissioner of Mumbai Customs and head of AIU Kiran Kumar Karlapu, 27, credits his bosses for allowing his team a free hand to attempt different forms of interception. “Of the 1000 kgs, my personal contribution would be just 60-70 kgs, and the entire team deserves credit,” Karlapu said, adding that their 100 officers worked extra hours, sometimes not going home for days, to make this possible.
The achievement speaks volumes for the team’s efficiency, but Karlapu said the job is tough and, at times, requires them to sift though dustbins and put their hands down toilets to retrieve concealed gold. While all methods of detecting gold cannot be revealed for security reasons, Karlapu said they often rely on tip-offs, besides apprehending a smuggler on a hunch. “We get tip-offs, in which case we’re prepared,” said Karlapu. “But often, observation and effective surveillance is the best way to tell if a person has valuables beyond permitted limit.” He explained that certain traits are straight giveaways. “A person concealing gold is likely to exhibit extreme behaviour – appear fidgety and nervous, or overconfident and walk straight to the conveyor belt and towards the Customs channels, without making eye contact or speaking to anyone. Such a person will never seek directions,” said Karlapu. Another line of investigation begins before an aircraft lands, when AIU checks the manifest. If they find the name of a frequent flier or someone suspicious, the team is ready to watch him. “Our officers are everywhere and follow passengers incognito,” said Karlapu, adding that differentiating between regular fliers and a smuggler is a job his team delivers on. Trying to slip past Customs is no mean task and calls for creativity and cunning. “The most common place people hide gold is in the battery space of mobiles. They think they’ll get through, but are caught by the metal detector,” said Karlapu. Other common hiding places are in household electronics, under shoes, and even inside the rectum.