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Northeast’s arms smuggling routes now turn golden

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NEW DELHI: Arms smuggling routes are being used to ferry gold into the country and the Northeast region has recorded the highest seizure of the yellow metal in 2019-20, a report by Directorate of Revenue Intelligence has said.

Arms smuggling took a hit with the decline in insurgency after 2013-14, the DRI report said. “But as the routes and the network of carriers were already in place, a switch was made from arms to gold.”

ET has seen a copy of the report. According to DRI, gold smuggling through air routes from West Asian countries has become a risky proposition, due to which smuggling networks prefer land or sea routes. “The preferred routes of gold smuggling until recently were the air routes from Middle East, from where most of the gold was being pushed illegally into India… Due to the increased surveillance of customs and DRI at the international airports, the gold smuggling has become a risky proposition,” the report said.

In July, customs officials had seized gold worth Rs 14.82 crore concealed in a diplomatic cargo at the Thiruvananthapuram international airport. The case was later handed over to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and has resulted in removal of Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan’s former principal secretary M Sivasankar. “Smuggling of gold through the land borders has risen many-folds,” the DRI report said.

“The Khawmawi village in Myanmar, which is located on the east of Zokhawthar, is the focal point of the smuggling network.”

Citing data from World Gold Council, DRI said 120 tonnes of gold were smuggled into India in 2019-20, which was about 15-17% of the nation’s annual demand.

“India imports about 800- 850 tonnes of gold every year, while its annual consumption is around 1,000 tonnes,” the report said. “This suggests that roughly 150-200 tonnes of gold are being smuggled into the country every year. Estimates suggest that there is a margin in excess of Rs 3 lakh per kg of smuggled gold.”

Considering the geostrategic location and the presence of China and other Southeast Asian countries on either side, Myanmar has become a transit corridor for movement of goods between two major global markets and production centres.

“Though smuggling happens across the IMB (India-Myanmar border), most of the smuggled goods have their origin in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and China,” the DRI report said. “The gold smuggling through India’s land borders with Myanmar has shot up remarkably in the last couple of years.” In Sikkim, Nathu La pass, smugglers active in China-Myanmar corridor have been using the porous land borders to smuggle gold in substantial quantities.

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