More skeletons continue to tumble out of the closet for the Mumbai Airport Customs Air Intelligence Unit (AIU) at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport, with rising cases of digital bribes and extortion, escorting foreign currency carriers and claiming reward money by snatching credit for seizures by the CISF and other agencies.
A woman passenger carrying more than Rs 8.3 crore in foreign currency, who was intercepted by the CISF, was allowed to proceed on travel overseas while her husband was arrested and produced in court the following day, even as rules stipulating the freezing of foreign currency worth more than Rs 5 lakh in the bank account were ignored.
Mumbai Airport Chief Commissioner Roopam Kapoor has vehemently denied the involvement of the Customs AIU in providing escort and protocol to foreign currency smuggling suspects and has issued a clarification on the seizure of more than a million US dollars, worth Rs 8.3 crore, intercepted by the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) integrated security hold at Terminal 2 of Mumbai airport.
FPJ's exclusive report brings the truth about the case
Documents exclusively accessed by The Free Press Journal show that alert CISF officials had intercepted an Indian-origin US national, Ami Kotecha, on February 20, 2023, but Customs AIU arrested her husband Poonam Sombiya and produced him in court the following day. No currency was recovered from Sombiya, but it was he who was arrested while his wife Ami Kotecha, from whose handbag the foreign currency was seized, was allowed to fly to Dubai.
In the latest case of the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) intercepting an American national, Amy Kotecha, with foreign currency worth Rs3 crore at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport (CSMIA), the allegations against the Mumbai Airport Customs Air Intelligence Unit (AIU) are flying thick and fast that Customs officials are either extorting innocent passengers or letting the culprits go unchecked.
While Kotecha could continue her journey with her daughter to Dubai without being caught by the Customs on Feb 20, her husband Poonam Sombiya was arrested and produced in court the next day. The Customs AIU neither froze Kotecha’s bank account as per rules nor issued a Look Out Circular against her. Even her statement wasn’t recorded.
Airport officials backing AIU Deputy Commissioner's move of allowing woman flyer to go
The official under scanner is Mumbai Customs AIU Deputy Commissioner Manudev Jain, who wasn’t available for comment to this newspaper.
Justifying Jain’s action, Airport Customs officials said Kotecha was allowed to travel on humanitarian grounds but couldn’t explain the earlier arrests of three Indians, including two women, for a relatively smaller amount of Rs1.55 crore on Friday night.
Meanwhile, Mumbai Airport Chief Commissioner Roopam Kapoor vehemently denied involvement of Customs AIU and issued a strong clarification regarding Kotecha’s interception at Terminal 2 of CSMIA.
“The Customs department has different yardsticks for Indian and American passport holders for similar cases of foreign currency smuggling,” said another Custom official.
An Ulhasnagar-based businessman, Manoj Valecha, had recently filed a complaint and accused Jain of racial and casteist comments against the Sindhi community. On Feb 21, Valecha had cancelled his ticket to Bangkok after completing immigration formalities owing to a medical emergency at home. “A bona fide passenger was humiliated and forced to undergo body scan for cancelling flight and abused when nothing incriminating was found on him. Jain passed racist slur on the Sindhi community for being smugglers,” alleged Valecha.
Senior customs officials have raised eyebrows on the working of Customs AIU’s repeated failure in intercepting suspects, while the CISF and other agencies have seized contraband, gold, narcotics and even foreign currency.
FPJ constantly highlighting cases of corruption and extortion of international passengers
The FPJ has been highlighting cases of corruption and extortion of international passengers after threats of being implicated in false cases of smuggling. The CBI has registered seven cases against Customs officials in the last 30 days, prompting the Airport Customs Commissioner to en masse transfer 38 superintendents and inspectors last week.
Mumbai Airport Customs has the lowest rate of detection and seizure of gold, foreign currency and narcotics compared to Delhi and Bangalore airport in the last 60 days, with the DRI and CISF detecting more cases at Mumbai Airport and arresting traffickers.
Earlier crackdowns on smuggling attempts
March 7: Indian woman flyer held for attempting to smuggle 7.6 kg heroin valued at `53 cr
March 3: 2 Nigerian nationals held for smuggling 2.976 kg cocaine valued at `29.76 cr
February 27: Nigerian woman among 2 held for smuggling 2.58 kg cocaine valued `25 cr
February 14: Indian woman held after 11.94 kg of heroin valued at `84 cr recovered from her baggage; 2 others held in follow up action
February 1: Flyer held for smuggling cocaine worth `33.6 cr
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