A Jet Airways crew member was arrested at Mumbai airport early this morning on the charge of smuggling in 1.2kg gold, worth Rs 28 lakh, from Dubai.
Customs officials claimed Deepak Indramani Pandey, 25, had confessed that a passenger had passed the packet to him during the flight, promising Rs 50,000 if he handed it over to someone outside the airport.
Pandey had agreed, an official said, hoping it would help him pay the EMI for his one-bedroom, Rs 25-lakh flat in Dombivili. “But he couldn’t give any more details. The passenger couldn’t be traced as Pandey says he can’t remember the seat number. He says this was the first time he had smuggled gold,” he said.
This is the 20th arrest of an airline or airport employee on smuggling charges at Mumbai airport in the past year and a half. Customs officials claim to have seized over Rs 1,000 crore worth of gold at Mumbai airport since April last year.
Today’s arrest followed a surprise check by the customs department’s air intelligence unit on crew members of Dubai-Mumbai return flights. An official said Pandey had been arrested on CCTV evidence.
“He had been picked up along with other crew members on the flight during a random check. While waiting for a body search with his colleagues, he quietly slipped the packet of gold into a crack between the sofa seat and the handle,” he said.
“After nothing was found on their person and the crew had been let off, a sepoy found the packet sticking out from the sofa.”
CCTV footage revealed Pandey had hidden the package, the official alleged.
“Jet Airways was contacted and the entire six-member crew was called back. During interrogation, Pandey owned up,” the official said.
In March, Jet Airways flight attendant Mohammad Abdul Hafiz Khatri was arrested on the charge of smuggling in gold and diamonds worth Rs 1.06 crore.
Both Pandey and Khatri were cabin crew members on the Dubai-Mumbai flight 9W 543, and both were arrested after the flight’s scheduled 2.15am arrival on a Friday.
“Jet Airways is fully cooperating with the investigating agencies,” the airline said in a statement after Pandey’s arrest. “Jet Airways has zero tolerance towards any action of its employees that contravenes local or international laws prevalent in the countries of its operations. We take immediate disciplinary action as per company policy and after due investigation.”
The airline had issued a similar statement after the arrest of Khatri, who is on bail. Jet spokesperson Srirura Sen could not confirm whether disciplinary action had been taken against Khatri. “I’ll get back to you,” she said.
On March 26 last year, customs claimed to have found 3kg of gold bars stashed inside toilets in each of two Jet aircraft – 9W 537 and 9W 543 – arriving in Mumbai from Dubai.
The Mumbai and Kochi airports are among the country’s gold smuggling hubs mainly because of the large number of Gulf flights they handle.
India is the largest consumer of gold in the world, according to World Gold Council data.