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Customs to crack down on Mumbai airport staffers aiding gold smugglers

Authorities have written to GVK to instruct hiring agencies to carry out strict police verification of their employees and inform them about the consequences if caught

While Customs officials have their hawk eyes on gold smugglers arriving at Mumbai’s international airport, the real threat, as witnessed recently, lurks within the airport walls.

On May 7, a passenger hid a package of smuggled gold bars on a shelf of a Duty Free Store (DFS) at T2, where a store employee, Walavalkar, was to help him sneak it out
On May 7, a passenger hid a package of smuggled gold bars on a shelf of a Duty Free Store (DFS) at T2, where a store employee, Walavalkar, was to help him sneak it out

A spate of cases, in which airport staff were involved in transporting the yellow metal smuggled into the airport to outside its premises where smugglers would be waiting, have put the Customs officials on high alert. They are determined to crack down on the inside men and curb the crimes.

Acting on a tip-off, the Customs officials immediately raided the store, where they found the stashed gold and nabbed Walavalkar
Acting on a tip-off, the Customs officials immediately raided the store, where they found the stashed gold and nabbed Walavalkar

The Customs department has written to GVK, the airport operator, requesting that hiring agencies working at terminal 2 (T2) to strictly follow protocol, which includes proper police verification of employees and making them aware of the consequences if caught aiding the smugglers.

During interrogation, Walavalkar confessed that he was to hand over the gold to a receiver outside the airport. Illustrations/Amit Bandre
During interrogation, Walavalkar confessed that he was to hand over the gold to a receiver outside the airport. Illustrations/Amit Bandre

Security strictures
The department has also asked the agencies to prohibit their employees from carrying cell phones while on duty as a necessary precaution, and subject them to thorough bag checks before they leave the terminal.

An official, on condition of anonymity, said, “If the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) personnel strictly follow this rule and keep their cell phones away during duty hours, why can’t other staffers follow the same?”

Customs had written to GVK after the first such case, when an airport staffer from A2Z housekeeping services was caught aiding smugglers on April 1 (see box). If Customs officers are to be believed, their letter did not have any impact, as none of the rules were enforced by the agencies.

Speaking to mid-day, Milind Lanjewar, additional commissioner (Customs), said, “We have written to GVK as there are cases of inside staffers helping smugglers. However, implementing the rules strictly is not an easy task as the staff working in T2 is too large to be restricted. We have taken it up with A2Z and are following up the matter with them.”

Recent cases

Yuvraj SolankiApril 1: Ganpat R Shinghade, from A2Z housekeeping services, was caught with 5 kg of gold by a CISF constable. Shinghade was intercepted while he was sneaking out from level 1 of the new terminal 2 (T2), after his shift ended around 4 pm.

Shinghade told the Air Intelligence Unit (AIU) officers that he had found the gold discarded in a dustbin. He was suspected to be a middleman in the gold smuggling manoeuvre. These gold bars were wrapped in plastics bags.

May 4: Four gold bars of 1 kg each were seized from Virar resident Yuvraj Solanki (21), also an A2Z employee. He picked up the gold bars from the washroom in the west side of the international airport. The bars were to be delivered to someone waiting outside (‘Airport staff held from transporting gold bars from toilets’, mid-day, May 4)

May 7: The AIU officials seized two gold bars weighing 1 kg each, valued at Rs 51,35,740. The bars were collected from a Duty Free Store (DFS) staffer called Pandurang Vishnu Walavalkar. Walavalkar was instructed by a passenger, who had dropped off the package at the DFS outlet, to hand it over to the receiver outside the terminal.

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