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Gold smuggling: Customs seeks details of Consulate’s imports

KOCHI: The Customs probing the smuggling of gold via diplomatic channel on Wednesday issued a notice to the state protocol officer seeking details of the goods imported by the UAE Consulate in Thiruvananthapuram while availing immunity with his approval. The agency suspects some goods were brought as diplomatic cargo violating the norms prescribed by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).

Recently, Higher Education Minister K T Jaleel had claimed that he received copies of the Holy Quran from the consulate to be donated across Kerala. Customs officials said a handbook released by MEA’s protocol division in 2018 says the ministry exempts prior approval for import of goods worth `20 lakh or $33,000 to all diplomatic missions in India. However, a Customs Duty Exemption Certificate for each such consignment should be submitted with a self-certification and requisite documents to the MEA or the protocol department of the state government.

It says consignments like vehicles, advanced communication systems and ‘unusual consignments’ should be sent and received by a diplomatic mission with prior approval of either of the two bodies. “We have sought the copies and details of the exception certificates issued by the state protocol office, if any, in the last two financial years for importing items duty-free. Details of the authorised signatory relating to such exemptions have also been sought. If a self-certification bearing the specimen signature of the embassy was submitted, a copy of the specimen signature should also be given,” said a Customs officer. The officers said the protocol officer is not required to appear in person and the documents can be furnished through a representative or via post.

The Customs has also served a notice on BSNL which is denying to provide the call data records sought by the agency. “BSNL denied the requests claiming that Customs is not an investigation agency. We have raised the matter at the ministry level,” said a Customs officer. The agency also interrogated Shamsudheen, a jeweller from Kozhikode who is the father-in-law of accused Samju. “The interrogation of some of the accused revealed Shamsudheen too was a buyer of the gold smuggled via the diplomatic route,” said the officer.

NIA records statement of state protocol officer
The NIA team probing the case visited the Secretariat on Wednesday to record the statement of the state protocol officer. The officer is responsible for approving the import of diplomatic baggage and facilitates correspondence between the consulate and government officials. The NIA team sought details regarding the baggage arrival and the frequency of correspondence between the consulate and government officials, including ministers.

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