Customs authorities in Bangladesh have seized nearly 3,000kg of gold bars and jewellery in the last three years from the three international airports in the country.
The price of the seized gold is Tk1,450 crore, said data from the Directorate of Customs Intelligence and Investigation, a specialised wing of the National Board of Revenue (NBR).
During the period, a total of 130 people have been arrested, said the data presented at a seminar on “Countering Smuggling and Evasion of Customs Duty” in Dhaka yesterday.
The directorate organised the seminar at the IDEB auditorium.
In 2015, 784kg gold was seized, 1,540kg in 2014 and a little over 620kg was seized in 2013, and all of it was deposited in Bangladesh Bank’s vault, officials said. In addition this, in drives conducted by the intelligence agencies also brought 1,900kg of the precious metal to the central bank.
However, experts said this recovery is only 10% to 20% of the actual volume of gold that is smuggled every year through Bangladesh.
“Bangladesh is in serious threat of smuggling due to its geographical location with [relation to the] ‘golden crescent’ and ‘golden triangle.’
“Therefore the authorities should look into why gold is coming into Bangladesh,” said Maj Gen (retd) Abdur Rashid, a security analyst.
Bangladesh’s shortcomings lie in identifying threats and the nexus between smuggling, terrorism, and organised crime is threatening the country.
The security expert suggests that the authorities should combine research, training and preventive measures to bring smuggling down to tolerable level, if not to zero.
According to a 2014 NBR report, 86% of the total smuggling consignments entering the country is gold.
Citing customs houses in Dhaka and Chittagong and the Customs Intelligence, the report says that in terms of value, gold accounts for 95% of all smuggling items.
On February 2 last year, authorities recovered 62kg of gold from national flag carrier Biman’s aircraft Ranga Provat. Customs intelligence seized 105kg of gold at the Dhaka Airport on April 26, 2014 from another Biman aircraft, Arunar Alo.
Abdul Matlub Ahmad, president of Bangladesh’s apex trade body FBCCI, said that the recovered volume is just the tip of the iceberg.
He urged the revenue authorities to look into why and how the gold is coming into Bangladesh, who is bringing it, and where it is going.
Officials said organised gangs of local smugglers linked with foreign syndicates are increasingly using Bangladesh as a route for the illegal transportation of gold, foreign currencies, contraband drugs and medicine.
The smuggled gold usually comes to Bangladesh from Dubai in the UAE, Singapore and Malaysia. Gold bars from Dubai typically weigh 10 grams; those coming from Malaysia and Singapore weigh up to one kilogram, according to law enforcers.
Usually, smuggled gold is hidden inside passengers’ body, luggage, strapped under aircraft seats, abandoned in aircraft and airport restrooms.
Innovative techniques include hiding the gold inside computer hard drives, multimedia projectors and television sets, soaps and food sacks.
Recently, Customs Intelligence detained a person coming in from Malaysia who had three packets full of gold in his stomach at the Dhaka airport.
Records show that sometimes diplomats coming in from other countries are also involved with smuggling.
Delwar Hossain, professor of International Relations at Dhaka University, said: “Transnational networks are involved in the smuggling. They use money obtained from smuggling for criminal financing.”
He also prescribed emphasis on inter-agencies coordination and intelligence information sharing to prevent the crime.
Home Ministry Senior Secretary Mozammel Haque Khan said time has come to think about the 80% of the smuggled goods that remains out of net.
Moinul Khan, director general of the Directorate of Customs Intelligence and Investigation, said smugglers are coming up with newer innovative techniques for smuggling gold.
Regarding public perception on where the gold is actually deposited, Moinul said: “An inter-ministerial committee is working to find out if the gold actually goes into the Bangladesh Bank vault.”