Four trucks laden with cash and diamond jewellery are seized just before the cargo was to be loaded on Gujarat Mail. The consignment, being carried by angadias, had police protection.
Mumbai : A huge consignment of cash, gold and diamond jewellery, running into crores of rupees – according to one estimate between Rs 100 crore and Rs 200 crores – was seized from four trucks in a joint operation here at 9.30 PM on Monday by the Income Tax and National Investigation Agency (NIA).
I-T department officials said that prima facie the cash appeared to be part of a ‘hawala’ transaction, which was being ferried to Gujarat from Mumbai. The jewellery bags had the tags of the sender and the recipient but not the boxes containing the cash.
Ruling out any terror angle, the NIA, too, said the consignment could be a part of a larger hawala racket operated by bullion traders and goldsmiths in Mumbai. Last month, the Mumbai I-T department had raided 56 premises of ‘Bullion King’ Prithiviraj Kothari’s RiddhiSiddhi Bullions Ltd for suspected tax evasion.
Interestingly, the watchful personnel of Mumbai police were escorting the consignment. It is claimed that the local police usually provide escorts to ‘angadias’ – traditional couriers who ferry cash and high valuables for businessmen and merchants.
However, the police insist that it is not the responsibility of the escorts to verify whether the cash and jewellery are accounted for or not. The cash and valuables were stacked in more than a hundred bags, which were to be loaded on a Gujarat-bound train at Mumbai Central by the ‘angadias,’ who traditionally operate on a principle of implicit trust.
Forty-five persons who were accompanying the consignment are being questioned, said Director General of Income Tax (Investigations) Swatantra Kumar.
An estimate of the total worth of the seized cash, gold and diamond jewellery would be available only after an inventory of the entire consignment is prepared.
Kumar refuted media reports which, he said, had wrongly speculated that the worth of the seized cash and jewellery was “thousands of crores”.
Home Minister R R Patil said Mumbai police would intervene in the case only if there was a terror angle. “IT officials are investigating the source of funds and where the money was heading. Only if there is a terror angle, the case will be handed over to the Mumbai police,” he said.
Kumar said the I-T department had got a tip-off that unaccounted for cash and jewellery was being transported in the trucks, which led to the swoop down on the vehicles. Officials will be able ascertain whether the seized goods were accounted for or not after the valuation exercise is over.
As per information received by them, the cash seized was unaccounted for, he added.
More than five representatives of ‘angadias’ came to Scindia House, Ballard Estate, which has an office of the Union finance ministry, to make a representation.
Kumar said those who want to claim the valuables can show ownership documents. So far, 35 trader have come forward to claim the jewellery. P Dhirubhai, a private courier, said that they usually send precious metals to Gujarat for polishing and the cash was being sent to pay for this job work. However, an official said this claim was being verified.
Meanwhile, IT officials said that so far, 70 bags containing cash have been scrutinized and they are looking into the contents of the remaining bags.
Nisar Tamboli (Zone 2), deputy commissioner, said, “For the last 15 years or so, the local police station has been providing escorts to couriers carrying valuable consignments. Murders have been committed and there have also been violent robberies. We will continue to provide such escorts to prevent crime.”