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Sunday, 5 October 2014





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Navy thwarts largest gold smuggling attempt:

Customs beef up surveillance

Officials at the Jaffna Customs Unit who are conducting investigations

The smooth waters off the coast of Jaffna were ruffled - a dinghy was moving rather suspiciously in the smooth waters giving the Sri Lanka Customs the opportunity to make its hundredth detection in Jaffna.

The cooperation of Customs officials who were advised to increase surveillance and intelligence in busting gold smugglers is at a high level as the rewards made to officials who lead to successful detections are also high. The officer who makes the detection would get a cash reward of one third of the worth of the detected goods plus the fine imposed on that.

The Sri Lanka Navy Ship Ranadheera which was on surveillance duty off the coast of Medagalthurai noticed the dinghy operating in a suspicious manner on Wednesday evening. When the boat was intercepted the sailors found two men in the boat who responded to queries in a rather queasy manner thus arousing he suspicion of the navy personnel. A quick fire decision was taken to search the fibreglass dinghy and to their utter bewilderment, they found a large stock of gold carefully concealed in a plastic fuel can.

The Sri Lanka Navy on October 1 thwarted the biggest ever attempt to smuggle a stock of gold out of the country. The contraband weighing 45 kilograms, which was handed over to the Sri Lanka Customs as part of the investigation procedure was also recorded to be the largest ever seizure of gold in the history of the Customs. The value of this stock of seized gold amounts to a staggering at Rs.204.5 million.

In other words, the stock weighs five kilograms more than the entire stock of gold seized by the Customs in 83 attempts to smuggle gold out of the country, since January first of this year..

Customs Spokesman Director Leslie Gamini

The Customs is one of the leading law enforcement authorities that man and monitors seaports and airports to detect smuggling of goods. Apart from narcotics, counterfeit currency and other valuable goods, gold is a prominent item which is being smuggled in and out of the country through these ports every year. With this latest detection by the Navy, which apprehended two suspects, the Customs completes its hundredth case of seizure of gold this year to date. According to Customs statistics 83 instances of attempting to smuggle gold and gold jewellery out of the country had been detected since January 1 and the entire stock so far seized weighs 40 kilograms and 53 grams. This single detection has outweighed this amount by five kilos as well.

Likewise the Customs conducted 16 cases where attempts to smuggle gold into the country were thwarted and recovered 45 kilograms and 52 grams valued at Rs.239 million. Most of these 99 cases were detected at the Bandaranaike International Airport in Katunayake and eight of the 16 cases detected were with regard to passengers arriving and what is astounding is these detections are for he solitary month of September.

The Navy took the two suspects into custody and seized the gold including the fibreglass dinghy, Suzuki 9.9 horse power outbound motor, a fishing net and a GPS Garmin 72H used to navigate the trip. The suspects along with the goods and the contraband were handed over to the Deputy Director of Customs in charge of Kankesanthurai, Jaffna O L S Ismath. The Customs checked the goods and found over 50 pieces of gold slabs and biscuits in various sizes. These slabs weighed from 50 grams to 200 grams each. The slabs had been covered in polythene and inserted in the fuel can through its mouth. The stock is valued at Rs.225 million.

Initial investigations revealed that the two suspects who were reportedly residents of Medagalthurai area and had tried to smuggle the gold to India. Several others engaged in the illegal trade of gold in Jaffna had supported this attempt. However, a couple of days prior to this detection the Navy seized another boat transporting a stock of gold weighing one kilogram and 730 grams in the same coastal area.

As mentioned before there had been eight instances in the last month alone where individuals tried to smuggle in gold in small amounts hidden under various means. In most cases the arriving passengers had concealed the gold slabs or biscuits in their rectums.

 The plastic fuel can used to conceal the stock of gold slabs

On September 8, 2013 The Sunday Observer exposed the growing trend of smuggling gold hidden in the rectum. In the story headlined “Quaint methods adopted to avoid detection” we mentioned how “the rectum is used to smuggle gold out of the country. Depending on the items, smugglers hide it in their baggage, in false bottoms, in clothing, in footwear and inside the body where some of them swallow narcotics which can be retrieved when passing faecaes. The rectum is the latest modus operandi to smuggle valuables”.

Customs Spokesman Director Leslie Gamini said that of late there was a rise in detections regarding smuggling of gold. . According to Director Gamini individuals mostly males, use numerous ways to smuggle gold in and out of the country.

They hide the contraband in their baggage, in false bottoms, some in the rectum and females in their person and in some rare cases the individuals had even swallowed small amounts of gold.

Smugglers are shrewd and want to take the contraband undetected so they try ingenious methods to prevent detection and fool Customs officials who are equipped with state- of -the- art scanners and x-ray machines as well as having mastered in observing a culprit, with their specially trained skills to detect a smuggler. Whatever method is adopted by smugglers, Customs officials have found ways and means to detect contraband attempted to to be takenr out of the airport.

However, smugglers do seem to have invented new ways of carrying out their modus operandi over the unsuspecting nose of the law enforcement authorities every now and then. This was proved with the two recent detections made at the Bandaranaike International Airport, where smugglers had sought the assistance of airport staff to bring in gold without being noticed. An employee attached to a duty free goods shop and a member of the ground handling staff were used as carriers of the contraband as a rule they would never be subject to search by the Customs. A couple of weeks ago, the Customs at the BIA was alerted by the Airport and Aviation Security about the suspicious movements of a duty free shop employee. Customs arrested the man and found two parcels, each containing 10 biscuits of gold, carefully wrapped around his thigh.

The sales assistant on questioning disclosed that he was given the two parcels of gold by two local passengers returning from Dubai to be carried out of the airport.

He was given the parcels by the arriving passengers in the toilet in the arrivals lounge before entering the Customs gates. The Customs officials who acted swiftly arrested one of the passengers, along with another man who had come to the airport to receive the package of gold worth Rs.10 million.

A few days prior to this incident a member of the BIA ground handling staff was apprehended by the Customs for trying to smuggle in two biscuits of gold.

Customs officials were alarmed by this detection as that was the first time an airport official had been used to carry gold into the country avoiding the Customs gates.

Director Leslie Gamini said that Customs officials at the BIA were given specific instructions to beef up surveillance and intelligence to monitor such attempts being made by smugglers to use employees of the airport to carry illicit goods through their designated search free entry and exit points.

Through out history passengers tried to smuggle gold in the form of jewellery, as gold biscuits of the standard sizes, as semi finished and unfinished jewellery. Gold can be imported or exported from the country without a tax and according to the Exchange Control Act. However, if a person is carrying gold which is more than what a bona fide passenger ought to carry, that person has to declare the amount of gold to the Customs.

Another method used by the suspects on many occasions was to carry semi finished or unfinished gold, wearing it on their person. These semi finished gold items will be taken to India and sold with the intention of buying goods such as expensive saris, which passengers bring into the country on their return. According to Customs statistics most of the passengers carrying gold had come to Sri Lanka from Dubai and Singapore and most of the attempts being made to take gold out was to India.

So in other words, Sri Lanka had been used as a transshipment hub to import and export gold through illicit channels.

This had caused a grave situation as the Treasury had failed to state the actual amount of gold reserves in the country when preparing the budget. Apart from the legal reserves of gold being entered in the books an unknown quantity frequently enters and exits the country, Director Gamini said.

The seized of gold will however be sold at a public auction after one month from the date they were detected. One month will be given to make an appeal by anybody who could claim rights to that seized gold. Sometime back such seized gold was handed over to the Central Bank but now the Customs will sell them at an auction and the revenue will be paid to the Government.

For example if a batch of gold worth Rs.10 million is seized 50% of that value will be paid to the government as revenue. Out of the remaining half, 60% will be paid to the informant or the first officer who detected the goods.

The remaining 40% of the second half will equally be divided among the other Customs officials from the rank of Superintendent to the lowest position, the labourer or office assistant of that unit.

In a massive detection like in Jaffna where the goods were valued at over Rs.200 million, the lowest Customs labourer would even get his share of reward amounting to several hundred thousand rupees.

This will encourage them to maximise performance and commitment in recovering illicit gold, the Director said.


LANKAPUVATH - National News Agency of Sri Lank
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