September 4, 2023
DHAKA – Approximately 55.5kg gold bars and jewellery worth around Tk 47 crore have been stolen from a customs warehouse at Dhaka airport, officials say.
Dhaka Customs House filed a case late last night with Airport Police Station, mentioning in the complaint that four of its assistant revenue officers (ARO) and four guards “failed to give satisfactory answers” over the matter.
The individuals named in the complaint — AROs Shahidul Islam, Akram Sheikh, Saidul Islam Shahed, and Masum Rana and guards Rezaul Karim, Mozammel Haq, Afzal Hossain, and Niamat Hawlader — were in charge of the warehouse, customs officials said.
None of the AROs could be contacted last night as the investigators seized their phones.
The stolen valuables were seized between 2020 and last month from people arriving at the airport with more gold than the law allows.
According to sources in the customs, gold bars, jewellery, and other illegally imported items are stored in two warehouses at the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport.
Contacted, AKM Nurul Huda Azad, customs commissioner, said one of the warehouses was supposed to contain 200 kg gold. But officers on Saturday found only around 145 kg.
“We have sought assistance from the police and intelligence agencies after learning about the matter,” he added.
As per the Customs Act 1969, intelligence officers or law enforcers are required to submit seized gold bars or jewellery to their nearest customs house within 24 hours.
The customs must deposit the gold permanently or temporarily to Bangladesh Bank within seven days, says the law.
Asked why gold was stored in a godown with other items, Azad said owners were supposed to take the items after paying fines and taxes. “That’s why these were not deposited to Bangladesh Bank.”
“It seems the gold was stolen in phases. Usually, two AROs, each with a set of keys, are assigned to oversee these two godowns,” he said.
When taking charge of the godowns on November 10, last year, the AROs, now under investigation, were officially handed over the inventory, he said.
“If they signed the papers without physically checking what’s in there, then it is their responsibility,” he added.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
On August 14, senior officials found six gold bars in a comparatively less secure place in a godown.
Officials then launched a thorough examination into the items that had arrived since 2020. Goldsmiths were called in to measure how much gold was there.
But in the early hours of Saturday, during the inventory examination, two AROs informed senior officials that a godown appeared to have been broken in, according to sources.
Customs officers then contacted law enforcers.
“After conducting a forensic investigation, law enforcers found no evidence of unauthorised entry into the godown and suggested that there might be involvement of insiders,” said a senior police officer involved in the investigation.
Customs officials at the scene first told cops that the thief might have entered the godown through a broken tin window of a toilet.
“But it appeared that the tin was cut earlier. And it is not possible for someone to enter through the tiny space,” the officer told The Daily Star, adding that there was no security camera there.
“Customs personnel responsible for security could have been involved in the theft,” said the officer, requesting anonymity.
Of the missing gold, around eight kg was seized on August 13 this year, and 47kg was seized at different times since 2020, they said.