When cattle grazers turn gold carriers

The series of images show the process of extraction of gold that was smuggled through the Calicut Airport from its capsule form.

A Dubai-based gang smuggles in 30 kg of gold daily. The ingenious ways of smugglers these days include powdering the yellow metal or converting it into paste or solvent before concealing them inside home appliances. Gold is hidden as screws and earphone pins before being flown in.

An undercover investigation into the big gold smuggling gangs based in Dubai ended up at a jewellery store in the Dubai Gold Souk. They even own a factory. It was shocking to find out that the gang used to smuggle a minimum of 30 kg of gold daily into India.

They do this by powdering or converting the gold into paste or solvent before concealing it inside home appliances. Also, the gold turned into solvent form is shipped in containers after labelling them as chemicals.

They send most of the consignment to Mumbai and Delhi. The precious metal is also dissolved in chemicals before being smeared in hidden pockets of clothes or pasted on the inside of cardboard boxes to dodge detectors.

The gold is concealed in old laptops and CCTV cameras, or as screws and earphone pins. The crew of a prominent foreign airline, too, was found to have aided the illegal gold transportation.

When I asked him about the quickest means to smuggle gold into the country, Agent Shameer told me to send it via Ahmedabad airport in Gujarat. The yellow metal is flown into the city through north Indian cattle grazers, who work in small merchant vessels, known as fat boats, transporting goats from various countries to Dubai. Upon finishing the work, the cattle grazers fly back to Ahmedabad, often in worn and dirty clothes. The customs officers rarely examine the shabbily-dressed merchant vessel workers.

Gold in liquid form.

Most of them carry an average of 1.5 kg gold, often mixed with chemicals and concealed inside their dresses. A single carrier can hide one kg in jeans and innerwear and half a kg in their body. (In smuggling, the appearance of carriers matters the most. The common belief is that the officers won’t usually inspect those in executive looks and the shabbily-dressed ones.)

Large quantities of gold are also sneaked into Gujarat through the port.

Gangs that smuggle gold into Kerala also bring the metal through Gujarat. Workers of fat boats ship the yellow metal directly to the port in Kutch, Gujarat. They conceal six to seven kg of gold in their bodies. The smugglers only need to hand over the contraband to the fat boat captain. The new method is to convert the gold into paste or solution form and smuggle it using containers.

Muttayi Shameer gives the slip

Muhammed Shameer alias Muttayi Shammer, a native of Kasaragod, is one of the accused absconding in the diplomatic baggage gold smuggling case. When ‘Malayala Manorama’ contacted him in Dubai, Shameer claimed he was wrongly implicated in the case. He initially agreed to give a detailed interview but backed out later, citing legal advice not to respond in the matter. During its investigation into the case, the Customs found that Shameer smuggled in over 12 kg of gold through a diplomatic channel. It was also Shameer who packed the contraband.

Equipment to shape gold in various forms.

Dubai-Ahmedabad gold ‘transportation’ expense (as told by agent Shabeer)

At Dubai
Ticket: 600 to 650 dirhams
The amount payable to carriers: 1200 dirhams
Airport taxi: 30 dirhams
RTPCR: 80 dirhams
Food: 30 to 40 dirhams
Gold one Tola bar: 116.64 grams (23, 500 dirhams per kg)
For cloth concealment (packing): 1000 to 1500 dirhams (per kg)
To convert to capsules that can be hidden in the body: 400 dirhams (per kg)
Agent Shabeer’s hotel room rent: 3500 dirhams

At Ahmedabad
Room rent: Rs 1500
Security personnel charge: Rs 2000
Food: Rs 1000
Other costs: Rs 500

One can venture into smuggling if they are ready to spend this much. The money to invest in ‘gold smuggling’ can be given at Kasaragod. It will reach Dubai via reverse hawala.

The gold to be smuggled in will be handed over to the Marwari trader in Ahmedabad who provides the best reverse hawala rate. The gang will receive the dirhams in Dubai via reverse hawala.

The changing designs and the Malayali ‘packing’

Gold bars weighing 116.64gm.

The ingenious ways employed to slip in the gold are as varied as the jewellery designs themselves. The smugglers term it the process 'packing.'

The 'experts' in packing now employ innovative methods that test the prowess of the official machinery. There are experienced Malayali 'packers' in the jewellery stores in Dubai. The Chinese natives, too, are employed by the gangs. But the Malayalis rarely depend on them. The packing employees are deployed with strict conditions. Their documents, including passports, will be with the gang. There are restrictions on travel. Even if they reach back home, they will be under strict monitoring.

Not even a single ‘particle’ to find

Our subsequent investigation was based on the knowledge that gold is smuggled in large quantities through containers and the like after labelling them as chemical substances.

We had elicited information regarding a major gang converting gold into liquid form at their jewellery manufacturing unit. But what is the proof? We could land in trouble if we direct the probe through Mr M and Shabeer. So, we changed the course of our investigation, and another group soon agreed to help us. But they advised us not even to think of capturing a video of the process after entering the jewellery manufacturing unit.

Gold in liquid form is being scanned using a metal detector.

We knocked on many doors. Finally, Lady Luck smiled at us. The rivals had captured the videos at the camp of a prominent gold smuggling gang for use if necessary. They agreed to share some of them with us. However, nothing happened for the next three days. Finally, they handed over the same at Naif on the evening of August 4.

The video images were that of Thola bars being converted into ‘liquid gold’ by dissolving them in aqua regia, a solution made by mixing hydrochloric acid and nitric acid in the ratio of 3:1 and then converting the same into powdered form by adding chemical substances. The images clearly showed the 'gold solution' being examined using a metal detector. The red light in the metal detector would come on upon detecting even minute metal particles. Later there would be no metal particles in the solution. There was also a video showing the conversion of one Thola bar (116.64 grams) of gold into liquid form. The solution did not at all looked like gold.

‘Packing’ rates

The charges for the various ‘packing’ methods range from 400 to 1500 dirhams per kilo. The lowest rate is for the ‘Dikki' method, where the gold is converted into capsules to enable snugglers to conceal them inside the body in their body. This is seen as the safest way to smuggle contraband under present circumstances. The costliest, 1500 dirhams per kg, is for concealing gold along the sides of dresses.

The new method employed is by using standard cardboard boxes. The gold, converted into liquid form after mixing certain chemical substances, is pasted on the inside of the cardboard box. No X-ray imaging inspection systems at the airport can catch. Four hundred to 600 grams can be pasted in a single box. A loss of three to four grams per kg may be incurred upon retrieving the gold in its original form. Similarly, up to 10 grams per kg may be lost when the gold mixture, concealed along the sides of inner clothes, is separated and the gold retrieved. But the ‘Dikki' method results in a loss of only one to two grams per kg.

Gold smuggling through cargo is comparatively easy. The modus operandi is to assign a person using a fake Identity card and conceal the gold in the cargo being sent in his name.

(This is the second part of the investigative series on gold smuggling by Malayala Manorama.)

Part 1: The capsule that crosses the seas! How gold smuggling thrives without a bar

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