The investigations into the seizure of 30 kg gold from Cargo Complex by Customs Preventive wing is continuing and the controversies related to the sensational case have not ended yet. Now smugglers in India have found that diplomatic baggage is the safest route for smuggling gold.
But gold smuggling in Kerala between 1970's and 1990's was not through safe routes. From Haji Mastan to Dawood Ibrahim, some of the big names of the underworld, carried out gold smuggling through Kerala during that period. They headed dreaded underworld gangs. The smugglers in Kerala began their operations as the landing agents who used to carry the gold arriving in Kerala coast to Mumbai. The Mumbai underworld used to bring gold biscuits from Dubai through ships and Urus off Kerala coast. The responsibility of the landing agent was to load the gold consignment in fishing boats, bring it to the shore and then take it to Mumbai in vehicles by road.
In those days the Customs did not have the required arms, men , vehicles or equipment. The customs officials’ used to wait for the smugglers in various landing points in coastal areas, masquerading as workers or fisher folk. It was a 24/7 job. Due to their sheer bravery, dedication and intelligence, the officials used to seize smuggled gold worth crores of rupees. Here we will run through some of the stories contained in the Customs and Directorate of Revenue Intelligence dossiers (The secret documents regarding smugglers).
Kerala's first gold smuggler
Customs officials used to call him Chettuva Haji, a resident of Chettuva near Chavakkad in Thrissur district. He was the cook in an Uru which was engaged in trading grocery and provisions to Gulf countries. Along with the goods in Uru he used smuggle pulses and other materials on his own to the Gulf countries.
He used to sell the material and buy gold coins in return which were smuggled into the country. Soon he became the blue eyed boy of dreaded smugglers of Mumbai.
By the end of 1980 he stopped gold smuggling and settled abroad permanently. He is not an accused even in a single case in Kerala. But former superintendent of Customs V Madhusoodhanan who took part in many operations against smugglers, says the information about Chettuva Haji in the department dossiers are true.
Then gold biscuits now gold bars
If gangs smuggled gold biscuits weighing 116.5 gms then, today they bring bars of 1 kg each. The details of the country where it has been manufactured date of manufacturing and the name of the factory is inscribed on the smuggled gold. The gold smuggled is 24 carat or 99.9 percent pure. If it is melted and given a different form then it becomes difficult for them to prove that the metal is smuggled gold.
Silk clothes and radio
How many people would believe if they are told that smuggling in Kerala began in silk clothes? But that is the truth. Radio, tape recorders and watches were also favourites those days. Customs officials intercepting and checking vehicles of Gulf returnees on the road was a common sight those days.
Silver smuggled abroad from India
There was a time when silver used to be smuggled to foreign countries from India. The Customs had seized 30 lakh rupees and 86 silver bars of Nileshwaram coast in 1974 in Kasargod (Each silver bar weighed more than 30 kg). The silver was seized while it was being smuggled abroad in Kalatra Abdul Khader Haji's boat "Ayesha". At that time there was a ban on sending silver to foreign countries from India. Kalatra Abdul Khader Haji and M B Moosa were arraigned as accused in the case.
Gold smugglers' gang later shot Moosa dead after silver bars brought from abroad went missing in Tiruchirapalli.
M B Moosa's story
M B Moosa of Kasargod was the first smuggler to be shot dead by the rival gang in Kerala, according to the Customs dossier. The silver belonging to Musthafa Majnu alias Musthafa Ahmed Dossa of Mumbai based gang of notorious Dossa Brothers, was smuggled in the form of silver bars to Thiruchirapally coast. M B Moosa was the landing agent. But the silver bars went missing under mysterious circumstances. Moosa told Dossa that the silver bars went missing after the boat capsized. However, Dossa did not believe his version. On January 4, 1992 Dossa came to Mangaluru and met M
B Moosa. He also met some of the accomplices of Moosa and gathered information from them. The next day M B Moosa who was travelling by a car, was shot dead at Mulbagal in Karnataka. Moosa's driver too received gunshots but he survived. The case investigation has reached no where even 28 years after the incident.
'Pakistan' Abdul Rahman
There was a hotel named 'Pakistan' in Kasaragod and that is how A P Abdul Rahman became Pakistan Abdul Rahman. He has been in Dubai for long. Because of his sharp memory, clarity and meticulous planning he earned the nickname "computer." Even though he was behind many gold smuggling episodes in Kerala, there is not even a single smuggling case against him in the state. Pak Abdul Rahman's smuggling link was first disclosed by DRI in a case in which K M Hamza alias Shanwawaz Hamza was shot dead.
Betrayal rewarded with death
Year 1989, February 12. Place - Talapady check post on the Kerala- Karnataka border. Two cars going towards Mangaluru intercepted by the DRI team .
The DRI officials seized 1600 gold biscuits weighing more than 190 kg which would have been worth Rs 100 plus crores today. The gold was seized while it was being taken to Mumbai after the consignment landed in Kanhangad coast. The gold was sent from Dubai by the Dawood Ibrahim gang.
The responsibility of carrying the gold to Mumbai was entrusted with Kanhangad resident and Pak Abdul Rahman's relative Shahnawaz Hamza alias K M Hamza . Abdul Rahman later came to know that Hamza had betrayed him. Hamza also bagged the prize for informer but without much delay on April 29, 1989 a quotation gang shot dead Hamza near Poinachi in Kanhangad. This was the first murder in Kerala for betrayal in gold smuggling.
Hamza was also the first martyr among Customs informers in the state. With controversy erupting over the Crime branch probe helping the assailants, the investigation was handed over to the CBI. During the course of the trial, the DRI officials had to disclose the secret about the smuggler and the informer in the court to make sure the real culprits were brought to justice. The court was informed that the smuggling was carried out by Pak Abdul Rahman.
Hamza was killed in revenge for disclosing the information. This was also the first instance in which the officials had to disclose the identity of the informer in court. Officials say that had they not disclosed the information, the assailants would have got away with the crime.
It may be noted that DRI had not made Pak Abdul Rahman an accused in Talapdy gold smuggling case as it would have revealed Hamza's identity as an informer. Despite taking over the case, the CBI has not been able to arrest Pak Abdul Rahman in Shahnawas Hamza murder case till now. One of the other prime accused in the case and co-brother of Pak Abdul Rahman, K M Abdulla was arrested by CBI in Colombo with counterfeit currency worth Rs 2.5 crore in 2007. A tipoff from insiders led to his arrest in Colombo .
Pakistanis also involved in smuggling
Mangaluru DRI team had seized silver bars being smuggled to Kochi in Ponnani coast in 1991. As many as 285 silver bars of 35 kg each were seized during the operation. The bars weighed a total of 9,975 kg. The prize of the seized silver at that time was Rs 6 crore. It would have been worth Rs 60 crore today. Of the persons arrested from the smuggling boat then, nine were Pakistani citizens.
Vehicles smuggled in place of gold
In 1990-2000 period Jeeps started arriving one after the other in Mongath in Malapuram district from Mumbai. Hundreds of Jeeps arrived there. Even officials of Jeep company landed in Mongath to open showroom considering the huge sales. Along with Jeep other vehicles also sold like hot cakes. DRI and Customs officials who smelled something fishy in the entire incident, inspected the jeeps several times. But they couldn’t find anything. What actually happened in the name of jeep was gold smuggling. It was the idea of a smuggler based in Mongath. Gold was smuggled from Dubai to Mumbai and the money received through sale of smuggled gold was used in buying Jeeps which were sent to Malappuram.
Jeeps started arriving in the name of residents of Mongath even without their knowledge. The Jeeps were subsequently sold off for money. As a result Mongath became a hub of sales of Jeep and other cars for many years.
A total of 3200 gold biscuits seized
On February 24, 1989, the police conducted a raid in a house in Vengara in Kozhikode after getting information about a dead body in the area. But in place of the body, what the police got there was 900 gold biscuits weighing 116.5 gm each – total 105 kg gold. That was just the beginning. The next morning
Customs and DRI officials seized 1,600 gold biscuits from a car which was parked in front of a house in Irikkur in Kannur district. Subsequently, 700 gold biscuits were seized from a marriage hall in Coimbatore on February 26. A total of 3,200 gold biscuits weighing 372 kg were seized and the price today would have been Rs 175 crore.
Later it was known that the gold biscuits which were offloaded in Koyilandy coast were meant for three places. Abdul Majeed a resident of Kozhikode was the landing agent.
Shootout at Ratnagiri
Year 1991, month August. The Dawood Ibrahim gang planned to offload 286 silver bars (9.5 tonne costing Rs 8 crore -today's price would be Rs 60 crores) along the Ratnagiri coast. The landing agent for the consignment was Kasaragod resident Abdulla who had close links with Dawood Ibrahim and Dossa brothers.
The plan was to bring the consignment in a Pakistani ship to Ratnagiri coast and from there shift the silver bars into small fishing boats. On receiving information about the smuggling operation, the DRI officials sought the help of Coast Guard to intercept the Pakistani ship mid sea. Though the Coast Guard spotted the Pakistani ship, it could not intercept it. The Pakistani captain had moved closer to the coast. With the water being shallow, the Coast Guard ship could not approach the coast.
The crew ignored the warnings following which the Coast Guard had to open fire. After the shooting, the gang which was waiting for the consignment on the shore, fled from the scene.
Three Pakistanis were killed in the firing while six jumped into the sea and later swam ashore. The ship was completely destroyed. The silver bars sunk in the sea.
The six members of the gang who escaped on that day were later arrested in Mumbai. The coast guard and DRI officials managed to retrieve 200 silver bars from the sea with the help of divers. Though the gang members fled from the shore after shootout, later Kadavath Abdulla and three other members of the gang were arrested under COFEPOSA. The story does not end there. After eight years, the Customs officials received information that the remaining silver bars in the Pakistani ship that capsized, were spotted in Ratnagiri coast. Again the officials deployed deep sea divers and retrieved 30 more silver bars.
Towards new Dossiers
These instances do not present even a small picture of the history of smuggling in Kerala. Many of the smugglers of the yore are not alive today. Some are still beyond the reach of law. The mode of gold smuggling has also undergone a sea change in front of their eyes. There are no longer people
who live only by gold smuggling. Smuggling has become a business in which anyone can invest his money. The underworld character of smuggling too has faded away with time. Gold smuggling has become a Number 2 business which can be undertaken along with other businesses.
The Thiruvananthapuram gold smuggling case too has some old connections. An elderly person who is an active hawala operator having close links with gold smuggling, had reportedly invested money in the Thiruvananthapuram gold smuggling consignment.
It goes without saying that the gold smugglers are ever ready to experiment with new ways of smuggling. Gold still glitters in front of their eyes.