Top Customs officials running a smuggling racket at Mumbai airport?
A month ago, Mumbai Customs had nabbed a smuggler sneaking in 7 kg of gold in his shoes and underwear, but the case has now shaken the department, with allegations that top Customs officials are allegedly running the smuggling racket and deliberately mishandling the case.
On December 7, the Air Intelligence Unit (AIU) arrested flier Raj Vasant Jadhav, who was found carrying seven gold bars, each weighing a kilogram. The total consignment was valued over R1.6 crore. He told the authorities that he was supposed to hand over the gold to a jewellery store owner, Gaurav Jain. This complicated matters, because Gaurav is the brother of one of the advocates working with the Customs department, Apeksha Jain. At the time, she had denied that either her brother or she had any involvement in the crime. However, a few weeks later, Gaurav turned himself in.
According to top officials, this case might blow the lid off a major smuggling racket being run from within the Customs itself. Several complaints have come in against Mumbai Customs Additional Commissioner Milind Lanjewar, in particular.
The Central Excise Superintendent Association (CESA) Mumbai has written to the chairman of the Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC) to act Lanjewar. In the letter (mid-day has a copy) CESA wrote, ‘Request to intervene and to act against those who are tarnishing the image against the department.’
Another complaint from Advocate Syed Ejas Naqvi was lodged with the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) in November. The letter alleged that a smuggling racket was being run by Lanjewar and Principal Commissioner APS Suri at Mumbai Airport. He further alleged that Lanjewar displayed blatant partiality towards Advocate Apeksha.
An excerpt from Naqvi’s letter states: ‘Milind Lanjewar, to carry out his nefarious activities, is promoting an advocate, Apeksha Jain. He has issued directions to his officers to refer her name to offenders, and passes discriminatory favourable orders in cases handled by her. Lanjewar also assures that except her, airport entry passes to all other advocates are issued with great difficulties. A large number of advocates have brought this fact to the notice of many senior officers, but no action has been taken. The examination of cases handled by Ms Jain would confirm the complaints by advocates.’
Sujay Kantawala, a senior Advocate associated with Mumbai Airport Customs said, “An independent body, such as the CBI, should be appointed to probe the persons involved in the smuggling racket. CCTV footage from the past three months needs to be examined by independent agencies. All phone records of the suspects must be scanned.”
Sources said that only did officials believe that Gaurav and Apeksha must be investigated and punished if they are found to be involved in the smuggling racket, but it was also the common opinion of the department that an anti-corruption probe against top officials was the need of the hour.
An unidentified Mumbai Airport Customs official also wrote to the CBEC chairman, stating, “Why is there no action taken by the officials in spite of finding Apeksha present at her father/ brother’s shop in Zaveri Bazaar even before the AIU team could reach… It seems the top officials of Mumbai Customs at the Airport are being protective about Apeksha’s brother only because the advocate is on good terms with the them.”
Some officials said that the high-level complaints coming in against Lanjewar would result in his transfer. Top sources said the final decision would be taken once the chairman arrived in Mumbai tomorrow. While neither Lanjewar nor Suri were available for comment, Chief Commissioner of Customs (Mumbai Zone 3) Devendra Singh said, “There are no talks of the additional commissioner being transferred.”