55-kg gold missing from govt. agency lockers at airport

Gold bars
Reuters file photo

More than 55 kg of gold went missing from a locker in the customs warehouse at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport. Questions have arisen regarding how such a theft could occur from a secure location inside the terminal building.

According to related sources, the sensational incident of gold theft came to the attention of the Dhaka Customs Department on Saturday. However, the matter was officially announced on Sunday. In response to this, the customs department has formed a five-member inquiry committee, with a joint commissioner as its head.

According to the customs department, the golds were confiscated at various times between 2020 and 2023. Questions have also been raised about why such a significant amount of gold was stored in the airport's warehouse for an extended period.

According to airport sources, there are two warehouses or lockers within the customs department at Shahjalal Airport. There is a small locker on the ground floor, located next to the check-in desk on the way out for passengers undergoing customs inspections. This locker primarily houses goods seized during immediate searches. However, in the case of gold or other highly valuable items, they are stored in the customs house warehouse, which is adjacent to the 'Lost and Found' section on the ground floor. Inside this warehouse, there are separate lockers. A total of 55 kg of gold was taken from one of these gold lockers.

A law enforcement source stated that they believe the gold was not removed from the lockers in a single day but rather at different times, possibly involving insiders.

Sources within the customs department mentioned that their personnel work in the airport warehouse in four 24-hour shifts. On Saturday morning, an employee responsible for warehouse security entered the warehouse and came out shouting. Following this, it became apparent that the gold had been stolen by breaking into the locker.

Commissioner of Dhaka Custom House AKM Nurul Huda Azad told Prothom Alo that although there are many lockers in the warehouse, the gold was stolen from one locker. These golds were confiscated between 2020 and 2023. He said, 'I started working on automation in the warehouse. I am ashamed and embarrassed in such incidents."

This official stated that eight days ago, the automation of the warehouse began. As part of this work, counting of the gold in the warehouse was initiated. He believes that the incident of gold theft had occurred before the automation work started. It will become evident once automation is fully implemented, and therefore, the 'drama' of breaking into the lockers has been fabricated.

A senior officer of the NBR, who had worked in the customs department for a long time, informed Prothom Alo that when smuggled gold is confiscated at the airport, it is seized and promptly sent to the vault of the Bangladesh Bank. Prior to this, a letter must be issued to Bangladesh Bank. Following that, the gold is transferred with tight security on the specified day. Typically, it is dispatched within one or two days.

In addition, gold brought by passengers under baggage rules is stored in that warehouse until it is released, either when they fail to pay the duty properly or when they exceed the allowed amount. In many cases, it takes several months for individuals to retrieve their gold after completing the required formalities or legal processes.

There have been cases where it has taken seven to eight months or even a year. However, it is reported that some of the stolen gold had been confiscated two to three years ago, which is not typical for it to be stored in the warehouse for such an extended period.

In addition to this, all areas inside the airport are under round-the-clock security with CCTV surveillance. The entire airport is staffed by several government agencies, including the Civil Aviation Authority, law enforcement agencies, and various intelligence agencies. The fact that gold was stolen from the warehouse amid such heightened security has also raised questions about the airport's security.

In this regard, deputy commissioner of Uttara Division of Police Mohammad Morshed Alam told Prothom Alo that the airport is a Key Point Installation (KPI). If anything is stolen from such a place, the question regarding the security of the airport ought to arise. He said that a complaint has been received by the police in this incident of gold theft. Investigation will be done to find out who is involved in this incident.