As gold smuggling through the Kochi international airport has seen a sharp rise in recent weeks, Kerala-based jewellery chains are under scanner as a substantial chunk of the smuggled gold is suspected to have ended up in their lockers.

Smuggling rings have mushroomed in the past year because of the high returns. Authorities suspect that some of the racketeers are operating on behalf of some well-known jewellers who have branches in other States as well as abroad.

Lucrative deal

Young men and women are attracted to smuggling rackets as carriers because of the high returns, the excitement provided by a high-risk operation and the luxurious vacations offered in Dubai and Singapore.

The arrest of an Irish national on Tuesday at the airport while smuggling in 10 kg of gold from Dubai showed that foreigners have also been hired by the smugglers. The Irish man confessed to the authorities that he had, using a business visa to India, carried gold from Dubai a dozen times over the past year.

Role of jewellers

Kerala has a number of big jewelleries, who make, retail and export gold ornaments and have chain showrooms in many cities in the country and broad. They spend heavily on marketing campaigns and advertisement and have hired high-value film personalities as brand ambassadors.

The tremendous growth of some of the jewellery groups over the past few years has been phenomenal. These jewellers have manufacturing units in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

A member of jewellers’ association, who does not want to be identified, told Business Line that the restrictions on gold import – limited number of authorised channels, high duty and the insistence that a part of the imported gold should be exported in the form of finished products – was forcing jewellers to seek ‘alternative channels.’


Over the past three months, the Customs caught nearly 50 carriers, including women, with 62 kg of smuggled gold at the Kochi airport. Twentyone of them have been arrested; apart from 32 others who had links to smuggling gangs.

A former immigration official, who had allegedly facilitated smuggling of hundreds of kgs of gold over his one-and-a-half year’s tenure at the airport, was arrested last month. The ground-handling employee of an airline was arrested on Wednesday. He reportedly told the Customs that he had smuggled in 14 kg of gold.

Authorities admit that the seized gold could just be the tip of the iceberg of the smuggled gold as the smugglers are known to use high-tech methods to evade Customs inspection. They employ different methods of hiding with each carrier.

Gold arriving in Kochi is also sold in other parts of the country, especially in Delhi and Kolkata, again mostly to jewelleries.