In a case that is testament both to the ingenuity of people smuggling gold into the country and the tenacity of those tasked with apprehending them, officers of the Air Intelligence Unit (AIU) nabbed four smugglers and seized gold worth Rs 1.65 crore in a three-hour operation packed with edge-of-the-seat action yesterday.
The confessions of two employees of an airline catering company and two men who were supposed to receive the consignments have revealed that they were part of a well-oiled machine, which relied on clever and meticulous planning to smuggle gold into the country. The catering company's employees admitted that they had successfully cleared at least 30 smuggled gold consignments.
The smugglers finally met their match in a Mumbai Customs team. Acting on a tip-off, the AIU officials laid a trap for the two employees and, having nabbed them while they were about to retrieve gold consignments from under aircraft seat cushions, manipulated them into leading the team to their handler.
The handler decided to make a run for it, leading to a filmy car chase, which ended in the AIU team ramming their vehicle into the taxi he was in. The handler then led the team to another man, who he was supposed to hand over the gold to.
Abdul Razak Shaikh and Siraj Mohammed Sayed, employees of Skygourmet Flight Kitchen, were caught by AIU officials around 4.30am yesterday, when they were about to attempt a series of gold retrievals from Jet Airways' aircraft that had arrived from various Gulf countries.
Based on their confession, gold was seized from 4 flights and logged as unclaimed seizures because even the accused allegedly do not know the identity of the men who kept the gold in the aircraft in the Gulf countries. The gold was concealed beneath the seat cushion and the seat numbers were sent to the two employees by their handler via WhatsApp.
In the first case, seven gold bars, weighing 816 gm in all and valued at R19.18 lakh, were seized from 9W 543 (Dubai-Mum, which arrives in the city around 2.55 am). Twelve gold bars, weighing 1,405 gm and valued at Rs 34.85 lakh, were then recovered from 9W-583 (Abu Dhabi-Mumbai, which arrives at 2.40 am).
A total of 6.79 kg of gold, valued at Rs 1.65 crore was recovered. The AIU team then went on to arrest the handler, Vijay Tamhanekar from outside a five-star hotel near T2. Tamhanekar told them about Shahabuddin CA, who was waiting for him outside a fast food outlet in Andheri(East), and he was picked up from there. A search at Sayed's residence in Jari Mari led to the recovery of R5.8 lakh in cash.
Kiran Kumar Karlapu, Assistant Commissioner of Mumbai Customs said, "This is a unique case where we have caught two receivers outside. The employees have admitted to clearing gold at least 30 times in the past. We are looking into whether there were any security lapses by the employers."