Friday, May 19, 2017

Smugglers stash gold in aircraft, use tech to track carriers before retrieval

Bengaluru: Organized smuggling rings in India are increasingly making commercial aircraft 'temporary homes' for smuggled gold. Employing freely available technology that allows tracking the voyage of a plane, they are able to evade stringent customs and immigration checks on international routes, and throw intelligence agencies off track.
Confessions from arrested smugglers and busts in Bengaluru, Ahmedabad and Lucknow in the past three months have revealed how smugglers sit at computer screens and track 'registration' numbers of aircraft that the gold is concealed in, to learn its next schedule, route and even 'rest period' which indicates servicing.
Unlike a flight number — AI974 for example — which changes as an aircraft shifts routes, a registration number is like the IMEI code of a mobile phone, unique to each plane. All aircraft registered with the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) have such a unique registration number beginning with 'VT' and followed by numerals.
The gangs have a well-conceived modus operandi: A smuggler conceals gold in the aircraft after boarding at a foreign airport. The plane lands at an Indian airport, and he disembarks without the gold, getting past customs and immigration.
His associates continuously tracking the aircraft — they are even able to track its next schedule and route besides rest time — begin alerting team members in different cities. They wait for the aircraft to get on to a domestic route and do at least two trips. Then, one of them books a ticket, gets on to the plane and retrieves the gold.
19/05/17 Chethan Kumar/Times of India