In the first 11 months of the current year, the amount of smuggled gold seized at different airports in the country has been more than a hundred times higher compared to last year, customs intelligence officials have said.
In the last 17 months starting from July, 2013, gold consignment weighing a total of 677kgs have been seized and 88 arrested in connection.
However, only 75 gold smuggling cases have been filed in 115 such incidents under the Special Powers Act. These are all non-bailable cases.
According to the Customs Intelligence and Investigation Directorate, 4.3kg was seized in 2009-10 financial year, 0.35kg in 2010-11, 1.21kg in 2011-12 and 5.56kg in 2012-13.
The jewellery market in Bangladesh is entirely dependent on smuggled gold because of cumbersome import procedures. Moreover, the higher duty on imported finished jewellery than on gold bars also encourages businessmen to rely on smuggled gold.
According to sources, the gold jewellery business in Bangladesh is completely regulated by the Bangladesh Jewellers’ Association (BJA), who fix the price of gold and frame the rules of business.
Travellers and migrant workers, mainly from the Middle East countries, are allowed to bring in 200 grams of gold on each visit to Bangladesh. Apart from the Middle East countries, gold come to Bangladesh from Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong and Malaysia as well.
But the volume brought in that way covers a very negligible part of the total demand for gold in the country.
In April this year, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) directed the Civil Aviation and Home Ministries to take action against at least a dozen officials and employees of the Shah Amanat International Airport in Chittagong for their alleged involvement in gold smuggling.
Some of the names mentioned were Momen Moksed, personal assistant to the manager of the Chittagong airport who is now working at the Barisal airport; Ansar member Nurul Alam Momen, formerly posted at Chittagong but later transferred; Absar and Yeasin, security guards of the Civil Aviation Authority, Bangladesh (CAAB); Haradhon and Nirmol, sweepers of the national flag career Biman; helpers Parimal, Rajib, Sohel and Daudh; and mechanic Abdus Satter.
Apart from these, the PMO asked the ministries concerned to prepare lists of unscrupulous officials and employees of Biman Bangladesh Airlines, CAAB, Ansar, customs and the National Board of Revenue (NBR) to stop gold smuggling.
However, when contacted, Kamal Uddin, additional secretary of the Home Ministry, told the Dhaka Tribune: “I do not remember anything like that [the PMO directive]. I might have been on vacation at that time. Honestly, I am not aware of this matter.”
According to the Customs Intelligence and Investigation Directorate (CIID), more than 4,000 people were arrested for smuggling at the Dhaka airport in the last three years. They include 89 airline employees, 396 CAAB officials, 34 customs and immigration officials and 240 Ansar personnel.
CIID Director General Moinul Khan told the Dhaka Tribune: “Organised criminals are involved with the smuggling. There are also underworld transactions. We are trying our best to resist it. Although we have certain limitations, we strengthened enforcement and have been following various tactics. However, despite manpower and technology crunch, we are getting some results.”
Md Shah Alam, OC of the capital’s airport police station, said: “Around 10-12 smuggling rackets are active in Bangladesh. Around 95 gold smuggling and 31 currency smuggling cases have been filed with the police station from January to October this year.”