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Godfathers remain at safe distance: Syndicates use ZIA as transit for smuggling
By M. Jahangir Alam
Fri, 14 Jan 2005, 11:29:00

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The law enforcing agencies are yet to identify and arrest godfathers of the smugglers' syndicates, which use Zia International Airport (ZIA) as transit route for trafficking gold and foreign currencies, intelligence sources said.

Some 4,000 Kilograms of gold are smuggled into the country every year while a huge amount of foreign currencies like US dollar, pound, Euro and Saudi Riyal are being smuggled out of the country everyday through "back channel" at ZIA, sources added. .

The foreign currencies are being smuggled out taking the advantage of slackness of the Customs authorities. Some corrupt cabin crew, security operators responsible for scanning, employees of Biman Bangladesh Airlines, personnel of different agencies deployed at ZIA are allegedly involved in currency smuggling.

The syndicates are said to operate with the active protection and patronage of a section of employees and officials of four departments--police, Customs, Biman and Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh-involved in running this gateway to Bangladesh, sources said.

"Few officials and employees of the four departments developed a smugglers' channel decades ago and it operates in harmony with the international traffickers to protect their interests," said a high official of ZIA.

As a result, the authorities concerned could only detect very few consignments of the smugglings such as gold bars or ornaments, the official added.

Customs officials arrested a pantry man of Biman Flight Catering Centre (BFCC) and a senior airport service agent of Emirates Airlines and recovered five packets containing gold ornaments worth about Tk 48 lakh from their possession on February 15 last year.

He further said that most of the smugglers escape punishment for lack of convincing evidence. Some of them are, of course, in jails but lack of evidence may facilitate their release from jail sooner or later.

"From time to time, the Customs vigilance teams seize unclaimed smuggled gold, currencies and other valuable goods and arrest very few people but the real smugglers always remain behind the scenes" he said.

In the last few years, the Customs had seized gold ornaments and bars worth Tk 30 crore and arrested over a dozen smugglers.

But a section of unscrupulous officials of the four departments allegedly manipulate the cases of smuggling in such a way that sufficient evidence cannot be found against the smugglers.

Foreign currencies worth about Tk 1.17 crore were seized by a Customs team at the ZIA on April 3 in 2003, while foreign currency worth about Tk 3.77 crore were recovered at ZIA on March 5 in 2004.

The Customs team of Dhaka Customs House (Export Division) at Biman Cargo Village at ZIA seized the foreign currencies by searching courier documents.

Interestingly, the gold smugglers are arrested on the basis of strong evidence. But the evidence is mostly tampered with, enabling the smugglers to evade punishment and to continue their illegal trade with impunity.

It is alleged that a number of employees of CAAB responsible for airport security are involved in the illegal foreign currency business and gold smuggling. Some of them were arrested on different occasions but later released due to pressure of the CAAB union.

These CAAB employees-mostly cleaners, conveyer belt operators and security guards-are known as 'carriers' in the smuggling racket. They have links with high officials for smuggling of contraband items, sources at the airport said.

© Copyright 2003 by The New Nation

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