India gold smuggling case sparks political row

A political row has broken out in India after gold was found being smuggled into the country in diplomatic baggage.

Customs officials at the international airport in the southern state of Kerala found more than 30kg (66lb) of gold hidden inside bathroom fittings.

The package was addressed to the United Arab Emirates' consulate in Thiruvananthapuram.

The UAE has denied any knowledge of the package and said a former local employee had been arrested.

Local reports suggest another person has also been detained.

In a statement on Twitter on Tuesday, the UAE's embassy in the Indian capital Delhi said an investigation had been launched after the discovery was made.

"The [Emirati] authorities have stressed that the culprits who not only committed a major crime but also sought to tarnish the reputation of the UAE mission in India will not be spared," the embassy said.

"We remain committed to cooperating with Indian authorities in getting to the root of the crime."

The UAE's ambassador to India told the Gulf News newspaper that the former worker at the consulate had been dismissed several months ago "because he was not doing his job".

The chief minister of Kerala has faced calls from the opposition to resign over the case, although he has denied any involvement. A senior official in the state has been removed from his post, however.

According to a report by Reuters news agency, the lack of international flights because of the coronavirus pandemic has led to a fall in the amount of gold smuggling to India, as well as a rise in the price of gold.

Somasundaram P.R., head of the World Gold Council's Indian operations told Reuters: "Smuggling can be expected to go down substantially in the current scenario. Smuggling logistics were also severely affected during lockdown.

He expects smuggled volumes this year to be significantly below the 115 - 120 tonnes of gold that was smuggled into India in 2019.

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