Ground staff join transit passengers while using the system
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Ground staff join transit passengers while using the system

CHENNAI: Customs officials have said gold smuggling involving links between passengers passing through Chennai, especially those bound for Singapore or Colombo, and staff at the city’s airport, poses a “threat affecting India’s economic security”.

According to sources, the agency has sought help from the Airports Authority of India and all airlines to resolve the issue.

On Sunday, Chennai airport customs officials recovered 12.6 kg of gold worth Rs 8.05 crore that was being smuggled through this network. In this connection, Mohammed Barkatullah, a customer service officer of Indigo Airlines, and Abdulla Jomu Jaljahan, a Sri Lankan traveling from Singapore to Dubai via Chennai, were arrested.

Customs investigation revealed that gold worth Rs 25 crore was seized in 15 recent cases involving smuggling of transit passengers to and from Singapore and Colombo. The investigation added that in several cases passengers may have managed to smuggle gold.

Customs cannot search transit passengers because they have not legally entered India. This helps them to have free movement in the airport transit and departure area. Taking advantage of this legality, smugglers schedule their flights to ensure approximately 15-24 hours of transit time at the Chennai airport, even if earlier connecting flights are available. They use this time to transfer foreign gold through selected airport employees who have access to the transit area. Sources say transfers usually take place in toilets where there are no CCTV cameras.