How a Customs inspector was transferred to derail a probe into gold smuggling at Kochi airport parking lot

Representational image: Manorama

Kochi: A major gold smuggling investigation in Kerala has been scuttled following the transfer of a Customs inspector who was on the heels of a racket that operated out of the parking area of Kochi Airport at Nedumbassery.

Incidentally, the inspector, whose mission has been cut short, was part of several major gold smuggling investigations in Kerala, including the infamous Thiruvananthapuram Airport case involving Swapna Suresh and another involving gangster Arjun Ayanki.

The Customs team comprising the now-transferred inspector busted around 83 kilograms of gold valued at approximately Rs 40 crore in two years from the Nedumbassery Airport. The majority of the gold bust happened in the vast parking area of the airport capable of accommodating 2,800 vehicles at a time.

It is understood that the carriers who managed to sneak out of the airport would get out the gold, often hidden in their rectum, at a toilet next to a canteen on the premises before handing it discreetly to those in the vehicles parked in the lot. The vehicles would take off without leaving a trail. It is also alleged that rival gold smuggling gangs abducted carriers from the parking area. "All the gold we seized from the parking area was through routine investigation. But we suspected the issue was a lot bigger and that a big racket was involved. That is when we decided to dig deep," said a Custom officer who was part of the investigation.

To make headway, the Customs team needed access to the registration numbers of vehicles that used the parking area during a specific period (December 21-31, 2023). The investigators approached CIAL (Cochin International Airport Limited), who directed the third party that operates the parking area to provide the details.

The parking space at Cochin International Airport at Nedumbassery. Photo: CIAL

"We requested for the details of the vehicles in early January but the company has not provided anything yet," the officer said. According to a source, the details sought by the Customs would have helped it bust a racket believed to be operating out of north Kerala.

A bolt from the blue
While the team was after the gold smuggling racket, it also busted a gang of young drug peddlers from Malappuram at the parking lot. According to a source, one of the youths, who confessed to drug use retracted a day later and approached the Nedumbassery Police Station with a complaint against the inspector. He alleged that the inspector harassed him and snatched his mobile phone and money. "Based on the complaint, we did an investigation and found there was no merit in it. That was just an allegation," Basil Thomas, who was the Station House Officer at Nedumbassery, told Onmanorama.

However, since that complaint, the inspector reportedly became a target. "He (inspector) received a call from a man who identified himself as Yuva Morcha state secretary. The man demanded details of the case and threatened him to sort it out or face consequences," the source said. The inspector refused to oblige and told the caller to not disturb him further, the source said.

A few days after the threat, the inspector initiated at least three more interceptions that led to the seizure of around 1 kg of gold from the parking lot, the latest by the third week of February. A week later, the inspector was served with a transfer order. "It is nothing but retribution because the inspector refused to back off. Now the investigation has been scuttled," the source said.

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