Mumbai: The Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) has busted a major gold smuggling syndicate by arresting 11 people, including airport staff and seized 3.5 kg gold from them. The agency learnt that the accused would come from either Dubai or Bangkok to the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Mumbai International Airport in transit, carrying cylindrical capsules filled with gold paste.
Each capsule would contain half a kilo of gold and every such passenger would be travelling with two or three capsules concealed in their rectum, which would be extracted during visits to the washroom while in transit through Mumbai airport.
According to information received from the DRI, acting on specific intelligence, an accused, Ramesh Sadashiv Sunke, was arrested while collecting five such gold-filled capsules from near the Airport Road metro station. The capsules were being given by another accused, identified as Sachin Julum, who too was arrested on the spot. Julum worked at the duty-free shop at the airport.
Further investigation by the DRI found that a third accused, Naveen Achantani, had come to Mumbai from Bangkok, and then gone from Mumbai to Dubai and was expected to deliver his capsule consignment of gold to another accused, Shubham Kadam, at Mumbai airport. As soon as this information was received, the DRI arrested both Achantani and Kadam. Kadam works at the food court at the airport.
One of the accused confessed the crime
When the DRI interrogated Achantani, he said that he was smuggling gold for Rahul Bhatija alias Samir alias Rishi, to earn money. He further revealed that before boarding the flight, he had been handed three ovate (‘anda’) containers of gold dust in wax form by a person at the behest of Bhatija in a room of the Grand Regent Hotel in Pratunam, Thailand.
He further told the DRI that Bhatija had told him to hand over the gold to his person at the Mumbai airport, who would transit the gold.
Further interrogation of Achantani and Bhatija revealed two other names –Vikram Khatri and Jeetu Chhapru – involved in this syndicate. Based on this information, the DRI arrested both of them.
Khatri’s interrogation yielded the information that he had been a gold smuggler for the last 2.5 years and had 20 ‘passengers’ he kept sending to Bangkok and Dubai on a rotation basis, smuggling gold through them. Khatri further told the DRI that Wasim and Bhatija were partners in this smuggling and they all had an equal share in the profit.
Khatri affirmed that Bhatija was the handler of this syndicate while Chhapru and Vasudev Pherwani were the persons who kept in touch with gold-carrying passengers on mobile phones, constantly giving them instructions.
About the smuggling trail
Chhapru and Pherwani were responsible for safely bringing out the smuggled gold when it reached Mumbai airport. To complete this task, they would rope in the staff of companies serving inside the airport, like those from the Duty-Free Shop (DFS), or from the food court, airlines staff and so on.
Khatri named one Mukesh Kumar Valmiki as another member of this syndicate, who was in charge of arranging ‘receivers’ within the airport, who would pick up the gold delivered by ‘passengers’ as he was well-versed with the CSMI airport, having worked for various airlines. He would also arrange for the delivery of the contraband from the airport to outside, as directed by other members of the syndicate.
Mukesh Valmiki told the DRI that it was Chhapru who had given him the job. He also informed how two persons, Krishna Gowda and Mangesh Patil, would move the gold from the ‘transit passengers’ at the airport.
DRI officers have said that from the investigations conducted so far, it has been gathered that the syndicate has been involved in the smuggling of gold for more than six months, and huge quantities of the yellow metal have been smuggled by the syndicate using the above modus operandi.
The statements of all the accused have been recorded as per the provisions of Section 108 of the Customs Act, 1962, and all have, in their voluntary statements, admitted their individual roles and their involvement in gold smuggling.
On Sunday, the DRI produced all the accused in court, submitting that the involvement of other key members and sources for purchase of the gold, sale and distribution of the smuggled gold etc. needed to be investigated, as such offences posed a serious threat to the financial health of the country.
A DRI officer told the court that the custody and interrogation of the accused was necessary for the investigation of the case, since they had not provided details to aid the investigation. He sought the remand of five accused in DRI custody for four days, while the remaining six accused to be remanded in judicial custody for 14 days, as there was a possibility that they could abscond if released and hamper proper investigation.
Accepting the demand of the DRI, the court awarded four-day DRI custody to five of the accused and sent the remaining six to judicial custody.
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