Eighty-six percent of the total smuggled consignments that are entering the country have been identified by the customs authorities to be gold.
According to information available with the Customs Intelligence, they seized a total of 240 consignments of illegal goods from July to December last year, of which 207 were gold, officials at the National Board of Revenue said quoting statistics.
In terms of value, gold was 95% of the total smuggled items, according to information received from the Dhaka Customs House, the Chittagong Customs House and the Customs Intelligence.
During the last six months of 2013, customs had seized different smuggled goods worth Tk263.38 crore, of which Tk251.41 crore was from gold smuggling, reads the statistics.
The worst scenario was seen in December when all 36 smuggled consignments seized by customs were gold. Officials blamed the duty hike in gold import in neighbouring India for the rise in gold smuggling in Bangladesh.
Customs chief Moinul Khan told the Dhaka Tribune that the Indian government had increased the tax rate to 10% from existing 6% “which had resulted in reduction of 95% of gold imports.”
“The smugglers have an excellent opportunity to make some quick money,” he said adding that the smugglers bring gold from the Middle East to Bangladesh, and then take it to India using different routes.
To hide them from law enforcement agencies, smugglers carry the gold inside hard drives, multimedia projectors and television, and even inside soap, food sacks and luggage.
Syndicates, comprising of international smugglers, are involved with gold smuggling. However, in most cases, only the actual smugglers are caught by the intelligence wing while the ring leaders remain out of reach, a customs official observed.
The official says the actual number of smuggled consignments would probably be much higher since only 1-2% of the total number of illegal consignments is held by the law enforcement agencies.
“Gold is being smuggled mostly through the inside of an aircraft, which is impossible for any person without the help of the aircraft officials,” the official told the Dhaka Tribune seeking anonymity.
Customs officials say they are beefing up monitoring to nab leaders of the smuggling ring.
In this regard, the NBR has also taken up a plan to increase monitoring activities at different ports including the airports for combating the sudden rise in gold smuggling, as those places are used as transit points to smuggle goods from one country to the other.
An NBR official said Tk1 crore had already been allocated for the Customs Intelligence and Investigation Directorate to tap the routes through intense monitoring.
The NBR plans to prioritise the customs activities in Dhaka, Chittagong and Pangaon customs houses, the bond commissionerates of Dhaka and Chittagong, the Customs Intelligence, and the Investigation Directorate.
Under the plan, the customs officials will check the vehicles and people at the airports. If any smuggled products are found and the actual owner cannot be traced, they will question all the passengers of the plane.
Senior Assistant Superintended of Armed Police Battalion (APBn) Nur-e-Alam Siddique told the Dhaka Tribune that besides performing their regular duties, the force had also taken all necessary steps to make its intelligence wing strong.
He said the monitoring team was modified with the support of latest technology.
About punishment of the gold smugglers, Additional Commissioner of Dhaka Customs AKM Ohidul Alam told the Dhaka Tribune: “The customs department does not have its own prosecution department. It merely detains the criminals and files cases against them, after it hands them over to the police.”
“We do not have any idea how criminals are getting bail in such special cases,” he said adding that the customs did not have information about such cases since those were handled by the police.
He also urged the authorities concerned to empower the customs to better deal with smuggling.
Officer-in-Charge of Airport police station Shaheduzzaman refuted the allegations against police saying that they only place a criminal at the court after completing investigation properly.