Gold Worth ₹590 Crore Smuggled Daily Into India; Criminal Networks Operating From UAE, Hong Kong

Gold Worth ₹590 Crore Smuggled Daily Into India; Criminal Networks Operating From UAE, Hong Kong

For us Indians, gold has been one of the top choices when it comes to investment since ages. India boasts the world's largest private gold holdings estimated at a staggering 25,000 tonnes valued at an astounding Rs 15 lakh crore.

Dharmesh ThakkarUpdated: Saturday, June 15, 2024, 12:54 AM IST
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Gold Worth ₹590 Crore Smuggled Daily Into India; Criminal Networks Operating From UAE, Hong Kong | Representative Image

Mumbai: For us Indians, gold has been one of the top choices when it comes to investment since ages. India boasts the world's largest private gold holdings estimated at a staggering 25,000 tonnes valued at an astounding Rs 15 lakh crore.

However, the increasing demand also fuels a lucrative black market for gold smugglers. The sheer size of the market can be understood by the fact that daily an estimated 800 kg (300 tonnes annually) of illicit gold worth Rs 590 crore is smuggled by land, air and sea borders into India by criminal networks operating from UAE and Hong Kong. By evading 18% import duties and taxes, the smugglers earn a staggering profit of Rs12 lakh per kg, which comes to around Rs 98 crore everyday and Rs 36,000 crore yearly.

India's annual consumption of gold is estimated to be over 1,000 metric tonnes (MT) with 700 MT imported through legitimate channels, while the remaining quantity is supplied by the gold smuggling syndicates. The Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC), Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) and the Good and Services Tax department have identified a complex international network of gold smugglers. They use intricate routes to smuggle the precious metal sourced in the UAE, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, China, Singapore and Nepal. “The scale of gold smuggling is massive as 300 tonnes of the yellow metal worth Rs 2,16,000 crore is trafficked into India annually,” said a senior CBIC member.

A senior central economic intelligence bureau official said, “The huge illicit import of gold results in substantial revenue loss and empowers criminal networks posing national security risks with economical and social ramifications draining precious foreign exchange and money laundering to fund organised crime.” The DRI had launched four major operations – Operation Golden Dawn, Operation Golden Hammer, Operation Golden Tap and Operation Gold Rush – to combat the menace. The crackdown exposed heavy smuggling from Myanmar and Bangladesh; primarily facilitated through porous land borders.

The traffickers use modified vehicles to conceal contraband while transporting it via the vulnerable Indo-Myanmar border, which spans four Indian states on established Tamu-Moreh and Zokhawthar routes. “Smuggling routes involve transit hot spots of Muse, Ruili and Mandalay-Kalewa in Myanmar before reaching the Indian border. The consignment further traverses the rugged terrains along the border states of Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland to final destinations in West Bengal,” said the intelligence officer. Another notorious smuggling route is the India-Sri Lanka maritime border, with illicit gold getting transferred mid-sea from Sri Lankan vessels to local Indian fishing boats meant for landing on the eastern coast.

Mumbai airport remains a hot spot for gold smuggling. Most of the carriers are caught on flights originating from Dubai, Sharjah, Kuwait, Oman and Bangkok. They conceal gold in clothing, luggage, sanitary products and electronic equipment. “A notable trend detected in gold smuggling is 750-900 grams of gold paste being packed in capsules and concealed in body cavities, particularly rectum,” confirmed a senior airport Customs official.

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