TNN News, May 4, 2024

Afghan diplomat caught at Mumbai airport with 25kg gold smuggled from Dubai

Under the Law, if the Amount of Smuggled Gold is Valued Above Rs 1 Crore, the Suspect is Arrested and Faces Criminal Prosecution.


Mateen Hafeez

Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) officials intercepted consul general of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Zakia Wardak, at the Mumbai airport recently and recovered 25 kg of gold worth Rs 18.6 crore that she was allegedly trying to smuggle into India from Dubai.

The incident occurred on April 25 and a case of gold smuggling under the Customs Act, 1962, has been registered.

The gold has been seized under a panchnama.Wardak was not arrested as she enjoys diplomatic immunity, sources said. Under the law, if the amount of smuggled gold is valued above Rs 1 crore, the suspect is arrested and faces criminal prosecution. Sources said Wardak had a diplomatic passport, issued by the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

Responding to a query sent by TOI, Wardak said: “I was surprised and concerned by the accusations and need to look into this matter further. I believe you’re aware of the recent personal challenges I’ve faced while working to support the consulate and embassy. Currently, I am away from Mumbai seeking medical assistance.'”This is perhaps the first case in the city in recent times where a senior diplomat of a foreign country has been intercepted at an airport in a smuggling case, officials said.

Sources said DRI had got specific information about Wardak and deployed around a dozen personnel at the airport.Wardak (58), accompanied by her son, flew to Mumbai from Dubai on an Emirates flight around 5.45 pm. The duo used the green channel, indicating they were carrying no goods that needed to be declared to customs. They were walking towards the airport exit when the DRI officials stopped them.

The two passengers were carrying five trolley bags, one hand bag, one sling bag and a neck pillow.But their baggage did not carry any tags or marks, indicating their diplomatic status. Sources said.

But their baggage did not carry any tags or marks, indicating their diplomatic status. Sources said that the DRI officials asked the passengers whether they were carrying any dutiable goods or gold on their person and they replied in the negative. Their bags were examined and cleared. It was only after Wardak was taken to a separate room for a physical pat-down check by a woman officer that the gold was discovered. The gold bars were concealed in her customised jacket, leggings, knee caps and waist belt.

The DRI officials recovered 25 yellow coloured metal bars, each weighing a kilogram, hidden in the customised clothing worn by Wardak. No contraband was found on her son.

Sources said a government approved valuer was called to verify the purity of the bars. The government valuer issued a certificate saying they were 24 carat gold bars weighing one kg each. They were collectively worth Rs 18.6 crore. When officials asked Wardak if she was carrying any documents to show legitimate possession of this foreign origin gold, she could not produce anything.

The gold bars and jackets were sealed and a panchnama carried out before Wardak was allowed to leave.Wardak was appointed consul general of Afghanistan in Mumbai under the erstwhile President Ashraf Ghani’s govt. The Ghani govt was overthrown in August 2021 by the Taliban. Though the Taliban regime is not officially recognized by India, the erstwhile Afghan diplomatic corps continue to operate their missions in Mumbai and Hyderabad providing consular, educational and commercial assistance to Afghan nationals .

The Afghan embassy in Delhi was shut down, but India has reopened its embassy in Kabul and dispatched humanitarian aid to the war-torn country. Officially, the Indian govt continues to work with diplomats appointed by the previous Afghan govt.

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