Hyderabad: There is a reason why a few passengers flying in from abroad are stopped at the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport on arrival and are subjected to invasive, elbow-deep body cavity searches.
Smugglers often conceal gold or drugs in their body cavity to get them through customs. They conceal the material in the airplane’s washroom minutes before landing and remove them soon after they get out of the airport if they are not caught. Customs official say that most of them are trained smugglers who are capable of carrying even 1 kg gold in their body cavity.
“In April 2013, we had stopped a 50-year-old Chennai native based on a tip off. His passport showed that he had traveled between Dubai and India dozens of times in a short period. We recovered a few grams of gold from his dress. Our informer had said he was carrying much more than that, but the gold was not found in his dress or luggage. We conducted a thorough body search and made him walk through the metal detector. Soon it became clear that he was carrying gold inside his rectum. We made him eat and drink water. In the next few hours, he took out as many as eight gold biscuits from his rectum. They weighed around 1.4 kg,” said service tax deputy commissioner R. Kalyan, who had served as assistant commissioner in Customs department till 2014.
Smugglers usually try to distract customs officials by bringing in dutiable goods and paying the duty for them to avoid suspicion. “They may be concealing gold in cavities. But they bring TVs and pay the duty to show that they are law abiding citizens,” said a customs officer at RGI Airport.
The smugglers are experienced and prepared to face any health consequences for this act. “Because they are paid well. One of the smugglers, who had concealed gold in a similar way, told me that he had got a surgery done in his rectum to increase the size. That was really bizarre,” added Mr Kalyan.
Most often customs officials take out the gold from the smugglers’ bodies in the airport itself. “If it is confirmed that the gold is concealed in the rectum, we ask the smuggler to do sit ups or squat. Usually the gold comes out then,” said a customs official at RGI Airport. “Medical intervention is needed when the gold or drug is inside the stomach,” added the official.
When a South African woman was caught with drug pellets in her stomach, enforcement agencies kept her in a hospital till the pallets were taken out with the help of doctors.
Travel history is pointer for cops
Apart from metal detectors, customs officials check people’s travel history and the way they behave to ascertain whether they are smuggling gold hidden in a body cavity or not.
Customs officials of Rajiv Gandhi International Airport also use X-ray to confirm whether any foreign object is inside someone’s body.
It is, however, difficult to detect drugs concealed in body cavities with machines. Enforcement bodies thus rely on intelligence inputs and the behaviour of a smuggler to bust such cases.
“If the travel history shown in the passport of a passenger indicates that he or she has been traveling frequently between countries, and if his or her departure was from countries like Dubai, Malaysia or Singapore, we might take extra interest in examining the passenger thoroughly. If gold is not found in the baggage, we would increase the frequency of the metal detector and make them walk through it. Often, the metal detector is enough to confirm the presence of gold in a smugglers’ body,” said a customs official.
If the metal detector also fails to detect and the officials still suspect the passenger, they take help of X-Rays. “We take smugglers to the nearest X-ray facility. It clearly shows where exactly the gold is hidden,” said Mr G.N.L. Reddy, assistant commissioner, RGI Airp-ort Customs.
It is difficult to carry gold in one’s rectum for more than half an hour even for a trained smuggler. “After the flight lands, if the immigration process takes time and the smuggler has to wait, he or she might face difficulties. So, nervous or suspicious behaviour helps us detect the potential smuggler,” said another official.
“Airport body scanners cannot detect drugs in someone’s stomach or rectum. Earlier in one case, a woman smuggler, who had swallowed drug pellets, was stopped after we found her unusually fatigued. In drug smuggling cases, behaviour or intelligence input is important for detection,” said an official adding that the woman also underwent CT scanning and X-ray at a city hospital.