Gold hidden inside mobile phones and body cavities on Dubai to India flights this week were the latest in a long list of recent smuggling cases.
Customs officials in India found smuggled gold worth $74,000 on Dubai to India flights.
Officials warned they are on high alert for people trying to dodge India's luxury tax, which must be paid on arrival and is often more than 10 per cent of the total gold value.
Recently, authorities in Chennai also recently recovered gold worth about $340,000 hidden underneath fake hairpieces of passengers headed for the UAE.
The travellers were set for flights to Sharjah and Dubai, but were rumbled by their suspicious hairstyles. They were also found to be concealing $33,000 in cash.
And it is not just Chennai reporting a spike in recent interceptions.
15 audacious smuggling attempts - in pictures
Authorities at Chaudhary Charan Singh International Airport in Lucknow, the main transit hub for Uttar Pradesh, seized 752 grams of gold worth around $49,000 from two passengers landing from Dubai and Sharjah last week.
The gold ‘biscuits’ were hidden inside the shoes of one passenger and concealed in the body of the other.
Smugglers are constantly changing the way they attempt to import gold and cash illegally across borders.
On Saturday, March 27, Delhi Customs intercepted an Indian passenger on a Spicejet flight from Dubai who had hidden 798 grams of silver-coated gold wires on the frame of their trolley bags.
The hidden bullion was worth an estimated $44,270 (Dh162,600) and the passenger was arrested under India’s Customs Act.
Gold smugglers have been caught trying to carry illegal gold from the UAE into India nearly a dozen times already this year.
Hand-carrying gold on a plane is not in itself illegal, but passengers do need to consider the quantity they are importing or exporting to and from India, and have the correct documentation.
The National looked into the rules
Importing gold into the UAE
The UAE is one of the major importers and re-exporters of gold and jewellery, in part because there is no import duty tax or value added tax on gold bars brought into the country.
Travellers are required to declare cash, or any other financial instrument exceeding Dh100,000, according to the UAE’s government website.
The cost of gold varies from day to day, but in practice this means you can import about 500 grams of gold without declaring it to customs.
Gold traders often wish to import much more than that, and they can do so entirely legally, according to Jeff Rhodes, founder and managing consultant for Rhodes Precious Metals Consultancy, DMCC.
"Dubai is simply the most well-organised, regulated and most competitive market in the world for gold and diamond jewellery.
"That's the reason why Dubai is known as the City of Gold. It's a very laissez-faire, entrepreneurial place.
"There are no restrictions on how much gold you can bring in and there are no restrictions on the amount you can take out, either as bars or jewellery," he said.
However, there are regulations.
If the value of the gold is more than Dh100,000, then customs officers in UAE airports will expect to see a certificate of origin or purchase receipt when you enter the country.
This measure of authentication was brought in by the UAE authorities to combat money laundering and suspicious financial activities.
Also, the Federal Tax Authority charges 5 per cent import duty on gold jewellery, although if the jewellery is imported for re-export then no customs duty needs to be paid.
This occurs in the UAE because the country is a hub for the rest of the Middle East, and some jewellery is imported and re-exported to countries around the region.
Gold jewellery also attracts 5 per cent value added tax, although when retailers sell the items to their customers, this VAT is passed on to them.
Exporting gold from the UAE
There is no limit on the amount of gold an individual can export from the UAE, and there are no taxes to be paid as you leave the country.
In fact, if you are a visitor to the UAE, and you have purchased gold jewellery or artefacts, you can claim back the VAT at the airport.
The rules for importing the precious metal vary from country to country, and these need to be considered before you board a flight from the UAE to travel abroad.
For example, India has clear rules regarding the importation of gold.
As of April 1, 2016, male passengers can bring in up to 20 grams of gold worth Rs50,000 ($688) duty free.
Female passengers can bring in 40 grams of gold worth Rs100,000 ($1,377).
If a traveller wants to bring in more gold jewellery, they need to declare the amount at customs and pay import duty to the government.
This fee changed in February 2021 when finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman cut import duties on gold and silver from 12.5 per cent to 7.5 per cent, but imposed a 2.5 per cent cess – an extra, separate tax.
The total import duty now is 10.75 per cent, compared to 12.5 per cent before the changes.
The government said they hoped the reduction would make smuggling less attractive and improve revenue.
Up to 120 tonnes of gold were smuggled into India in 2019, according to the World Gold Council’s Indian operations.