Working in any intelligence unit is privilege and matter of honour. I was lucky to have got posted to Air Intelligence Unit (AIU), Sahar Airport soon after completion of training in 1986. It was the golden era of AIU when officers like Supdts Shri B.M Sevalia, N.E Samuelraj, V.R. Hublikar, V. H. Bhathija and senior Preventive Officers like P.W. Kulkarni, S.Y. More, A.Y. Arolkar, L. Rajendran, A. H. Velingkar, B.L.Gautam, Stephen Ambrose, M.K. Kashyap and Imtiaz Ahmed among others were posted. Mere presence of some of these officers in the arrival / departure hall would scare persons attempting undesirable activities. Dillip Tripathy, S.C. Sahu and myself were freshers from the R& I side while many other freshly recruited officers from Air Customs Pool were also posted in AIU on rotation. Some of them chose to continue in AIU, one whom was R. K. Sinha.
Shri Imtiaz Ahmed, now deceased, was the person who gave me on hand training, acquainting me with the topography of the airport and work flow including the movement of documents, cargo and passengers. He pointed out vulnerable areas to concentrate on. Shri Stephen Ambrose and Dwarika Prasad also provided valuable guidance. Other officers helped me develop noting and drafting skills including drawing panchanama, recording statement and filing various reports. Working culture of AIU was live demonstration of team spirit. It may not be out of point to mention that the sepoys and Hawaldars posted in AIU were all very trustworthy and highly dependable.
In spite of hard work, I was unable to make a breakthrough initially. I took a vow not to shave till I booked a big case. Soon I made the first case of 120 gold bars of 10 tolas each and watch movements. The case was based on scrutiny of air cargo manifest and airways bills. It was observed that the weight of air conditioner, in which the said contraband was concealed, was unusually more than the normal weight of an air conditioner and the address of the consignee appeared suspicious.
Here is picture of the said seizure.
There was no looking back thereafter. I was instrumental in effecting a number of cases during my stint in AIU. In addition, multiple cases of electronic components, drugs, foreign currency, gold ball bearings etc and misuse of export and import incentive schemes were detected by me while working in various formations like Special Task Force in Air cargo Complex, Special task Force in Chief Commissioner's office, SIIB in Nahva Sheva, CIU in Nahva Sheva and as Air Customs Officer.
Working in an intelligence unit doesn't require the highest level of intelligence but without the highest level of presence of mind one wouldn't taste success or miss out multiple opportunities. In anti-smuggling formations striking at the opportune moment is the key. Absence of mind, inability to focus and delayed action would make all the difference. On one occasion, officers from headquarters wasted a very specific information as they missed out the name of the suspect in the passenger manifest. The suspect was travelling in the first class and was the first passenger named in the pax manifest but the officers kept looking for his name in economy class, perhaps because of a pre-conceived notion that the suspect wouldn't travel by First Class. By the time they realized the mistake, the passenger was gone.
As a member of anti-smuggling unit, one has to exhibit keen sense of observation, some understanding of body language and ability to draw logical conclusions from the available information, however little it might be, and utilize such conclusion to further develop the information to achieve desired objectives. In one instance I noticed a lady importing bedroom fridge in accompanied baggage. She appeared little nervous. From her appearance, her status did not justify import of bedroom fridge by her. On examining her pass port and interrogating him I learnt that she worked as a housemaid and lived in a chawl. She also told that the fridge was gifted to her. Bedroom fridge was a luxury during those days and was quite expensive. It didn't stand to reason that such an expensive item was gifted to a housemaid. My suspicion grew stronger and on screening the bedroom fridge the suspicion was confirmed. 35 gold bars of 10 tolas each were found concealed in it.
There are times when only intuition guides you. One day after entire day's work R. K. Sinha, Dillip Tripathy
and myself left for home. At night I suddenly woke up from sleep and an uncontrollable yearning to check
Air Canada flight from Singapore arose. My wife objected but after winning a toss on the issue I left for
airport. As I entered the arrival hall, Air Canada flight from Singapore landed and was parked on a bay very close by. The cargo was off loaded. One small package was lying on the top of the pallet containing cargo. With the help of airline staff, I retrieved the said package and on screening it was found to contain 50 gold bars. When R. K. Sinha joined, he, in his jovial style asked me, "Sapna aaya tha kya?" (Did you dream?")
One of the most common modus operandi was surreptitious removal of packages meant for transhipment to domestic or foreign ports. For identifying such consignments scrutiny of Transhipment Registers of various airlines is necessary. Similarly, local consignments which were not cleared are to be tracked.
Once I suspected a consignment arrived from Dubai but because of the huge size of the package, it could not be screened. We decided to wait till documents were filed for its clearance. We requested airlines to keep in a safe location. They obliged. Because of its safe location the gold concealed in it could not be removed. After a few days, on basis of a specific information, a team from head quarters recovered 300 gold bars from the false bottom of the said package. I repented not having inspected the package for false bottom. But consolation was that the gold was seized. Subsequently it was revealed that some more consignments with false bottoms had been lying uncleared.
During my initial days when I was not a familiar face at airport, I was trying to develop informants. I came in contact with a loader in transit lounge. During interaction with him I asked him if he was not scared of being caught by custom. He told me that they (customs officers) were generally not attentive during change of shift, which was the best time to do what he wanted to do.
My biggest seizure of 1832 gold bars on basis of information was from a transhipment consignment from Sharjah. Investigations revealed that many similar consignments had earlier arrived and not transhipped. Most of them on the night of the second Friday of the month. Why? Because second Saturday was a holiday in air cargo complex and field was open for smugglers.
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On another occasion, on reaching office I learnt that head quarter intelligence officers had come with a specific intelligence but had returned after having failed to find concealment. I decided to examine the package again. It was an air conditioner. To rule out concealment we connected it to the electrical point and put it on. It was giving cooling effect. Though disappointed a little, I had a feeling that if the informer had given specific details of the package, there must be reasons for that. On screening it I noticed that the image was unusual. On cutting it open, gold in coil form was found concealed in the pipes of the condenser of the said air conditioner. As the gold was in coil form it did not block the flow of the coolant gas and the air conditioner was giving cooling effect.
There were funny instances also. A person was caught with gold concealment in rectum. On interrogation he innocently said, "Sir, I was sleeping in the flight. I don't know who put it there."
Other interesting cases were of concealment of foreign currency in samosa and hairdo.
Many cases of misuse of export incentive schemes like drawback were unearthed by me. It was noticed that some exporters had taken huge amounts of drawback during a short period. At that time the drawback rate was about 10% of FOB which meant that the FOB should be 10 times the drawback value. On scrutiny of the bank accounts of such exporters it was found that the only transactions in their bank accounts were of withdrawal of the drawback amount on the very next day of its credit to the account. Investigations lead to seizures of export garments involving drawback in crores. The modus operandi was that foreigners coming from South African countries brought in huge amounts of cash which was used to buy garments. These garments were exported through a local exporter by hugely over valuing them. All involved shared the drawback allowed on such exports. It was revealed that current accounts were opened on basis of forged documents or on basis of old lease agreements (as documents of proof of address) and Export Import Code were obtained on basis of such bank accounts. After about six months of operation, the exporter shifted export operation to a new fim.
Interrogation of accused persons is an important part of the duty. Patience is the key. In one case of smuggling of diamonds, in which the accused was acting too smart, I recorded 26 statements. Many of them were contradictory to each other. In the final statement, the accused, unable to explain contradictions, confessed. I knew that one generally does not forget factual events. False averments have to be remembered. I also knew that the accused would not be able to remember all the false statements made by him.