gold stash found in Indian aircraft toilet November 20, 2013
Kolkata (AFP) - An Indian
airplane cleaning crew stumbled across 24 gold bars worth
over $1 million stashed in an aircraft toilet compartment,
officials said Wednesday.
India, which rivals China
as the world's biggest gold consumer, has witnessed a sharp
rise in smuggling since import duties were hiked three times
this year to dampen demand for the precious metal.
The plane, belonging to private carrier
Jet Airways, was being cleaned at Kolkata airport Tuesday
after a trip from the eastern city of Patna. Indian media
reported the plane had been travelling from Bangkok.
"The cleaning staff of the airport
were going though their routine duties and found two bags
in the toilets of the plane," director of the airport
B.P. Mishra told AFP.
The 24 one-kilogram gold bars "have
not been claimed by anyone. No arrest has been made,"
senior customs official R.S. Meena said.
Meena estimated the value of the haul at
about 70 million rupees, or $1.1 million.
Gold is hugely popular in India, especially
during religious festivals and wedding seasons, and is the
second-biggest contributor after oil to India's massive
current account deficit -- the broadest measure of trade.
The government has been seeking to reduce
gold demand and narrow its deficit by hiking bullion import
Indians also buy gold in the form of jewellery,
bars and coins as a hedge against inflation.
"This is the fifth (suspected gold
smuggling) incident in the past one month," said B.
P. Sharma, director of Kolkata's Netaji Subhash Chandra
Bose International airport.
"Smuggling of gold through the airport
has risen" as the hike in the import duty of gold has
made the metal costlier, Sharma said.
Last month, intelligence officials recovered
gold worth 95 million rupees from the toilet of a plane
after it landed in the southern city of Chennai en route
to New Delhi from Dubai.
Four Sri Lankan nationals were held on smuggling
In August, customs officials seized smuggled
gold worth 11 million rupees from a passenger travelling
from Singapore to the Indian capital.
Thirty-one gold bars were found in specially-designed
pockets in the suspect's trousers.
In Kolkata, a 28-year-old man flying to
India from Bangkok was recently arrested with gold bars
concealed in large torchlights, officials said.
In another incident, a man travelling to
India from Dubai was caught in Kolkata while trying to smuggle
five gold bars in his body, they added.