By M J Alam
Although gold smuggling through the country’s airports has been on an alarming rise, the menace cannot be reined in for lack of adequate security arrangements in the airports, according to intelligence sources.
Gold consignments have been brought to Bangladesh through Teknaf and Cox’s Bazaar borders alongside the three international airports –– Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport, Shah Amanat International Airport and Sylhet MAG Osmani International Airport.
There is no firm statistics about amount of smuggled gold. Different law enforcing agencies, including police and customs, can seize only 15-20 percent of smuggled gold consignments, according to informed sources.
As there is no gold import policy, jewelry traders do not import gold. They have to depend on refined gold as well as the gold imports by the expatriates under the baggage rules.Intelligence sources said incidents of gold smuggling have in increased as Indian gold traders use Bangladesh as transit route for smuggling since 2013 when the Indian government hiked the import duty on gold three times, eventually to 15pcSmuggling rose by almost 300pc between March 2013 and April 2014, according to Gems and Jewellery Export Promotion Council (GJEPC), a Mumbai-based body of the Indian Commerce Ministry.Intelligence sources said on an average at least 700 kilos of gold is entering inside India from neighboring countries, including Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka through smuggling. Of them, 300 kilos of gold are being taken to India from Bangladesh using its border.
Members of Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) foiled a smuggling bid to India arresting a suspected gold smuggler along with 21 gold bars, weighing 2.5 kg, at Benapole check post area in Jessore on April 7.
Number of recoveries of seized gold show that gold smugglers are disparate to use the country as transit route amid strict surveillance of law enforcers, including customs and customs intelligence, they added.
According to available statistics of customs and customs intelligence and investigation directorate (CIID), around 17.462 kg gold worth about Tk 5.53 crore was seized in nine years in between July 2004 and June 2013. On an average 194 kg gold was seized in every year during the period.
However the quantity of seized smuggled gold rose to 900,447 kg worth about Tk 422 crore only in 21 months fro July 2013 to March 2015. It means on an average 42.87 kg smuggled gold was seized in each month during the period.
As there is no scope to import gold privately, Indian jewelry traders depend on other ways to meet up their demands.
Though customs, customs intelligence and other agencies, including Airport Armed Police (AAP) intensified their watch Shahjalal International Airport, gold smugglers are carrying on their activities through a number of loopholes in the airports.
As vigilance is relaxed at two other international airports– Shah Amanat International Airport in Chittagong and MAG Osmani International Airport in Sylhet– smugglers sometimes use those airports for releasing their gold consignments.
Sometimes the gold consignments, which usually are sent from Middle Eastern countries, especially Dubai, are transferred to domestic passengers of the international flights which en-route to Dhaka via Chittagong or Sylhet. Airports. An intelligence officer said apart from 12 gates at the Dhaka airport, there are some small points through which gold consignments are being smuggled out of the airport with the help of several hundred employees of both the national flag carrier Bangladesh Biman Airlines and Civil Aviation Authority Bangladesh (CAAB)
Due to lack of security equipment like in-built heavy luggage scanner on conveyor belts, vehicle scanners in 12 exit gates and mega body scanners, smuggled gold consignments are being sent using aircraft of different airlines, the intelligence officer requesting anonymity said.
Thirty gold smuggling syndicates, including seven foreign ones, are involved in bringing gold consignments illegally. Jewelers and 11 money exchange dealers are said to be directly or indirectly involved in the syndicates. At least 272 employees of Biman Bangladesh Airlines are involved in the incidents of gold smuggling, according to an intelligence report, which was sent to Home Ministry from Prime Minister’s Office in last January.
Seven of the syndicates are connected with the Shahjalal Airport, three operating through the Shah Amanat International Airport and one through the MAG Osmani airport, the report added.
Contacted, Rashedul Islam Khan, Commanding officer of AAP, responsible for ensuring security at Shahjalal Airport said the AAP has the responsibility to extend cooperation to customs and CAAB alongside ensuring security of the airport.
Sometimes, AAP members detained passengers along with gold or contraband items during exit through the green channel of the airport.
Another officer of AAP preferring not to be named told this writer that if only setting up some security equipment– in-built heavy luggage scanner on conveyor belts, vehicle scanners at 12 exit gates and mega body scanners at a point through which international passengers go to immigration points — can help control at least 90 percent gold smuggling through the airport.
When his attention was drawn to gold smuggling through international airports, chairman of CAAB Air vice Marshal M Sanaul Huq admitted that gold smuggling is a big issue. He however said CAAB along with other agencies are trying to contain it.
Besides, a number of initiatives, including setting up of CCTV and procuring of various security equipment have already been taken to ensure smooth security of the airport. Automation of the system has been going on at the Cargo village. “Due to an improved security system, a large number of gold consignment as well as other contraband items have been detained in recent times.
He said when the authority gets any complain against any CAAB employee, it took the same seriously and followed up with necessary steps.
The CAAB chairman also said that process of forming Aviation Security Force (AvSec) under CAAB has been under process.” After formation of the force as a specialised force, all security dimensions, including physical security, security of airports will be ensures,” he added.