Saturday, April 19, 2014

Have the stomach for some Gold?

There are a couple of idioms in English that relate to our liking to our stomachs. To me, they appear logical, because most of our likes and dislikes (leaving facebook aside) start and mostly co-relate to our stomachs. The first idiom that talks about Stomach says “ have the stomach for something,” which means either to be able to tolerate certain foods or to have the courage or resolution to do something. Another idiom that talks about stomach in a negative way says “ have no stomach for something,” as expected, this means not feeling brave or determined enough to do something unpleasant.
I had never thought before that it would be also possible to use this idiom for anything except food and maybe emotions. But as some Doctors from India's capital New Delhi have surprisingly found out recently, an old man of 63 actually had the stomach for some Gold. The old man, who is a businessman, was admitted to New Delhi's Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, in the first week of April after complaining of vomiting and difficulty in defecating. He told the Doctors that he had swallowed a bottle cap in anger, after a fight with his wife. His medical history showed that the businessman was a diabetic and had undergone four stomach surgeries in the past.

After doing various scans on his body, the Surgeon treating him realised that the man indeed had some foreign metallic objects in his stomach and diagnosed him as having acute intestinal obstruction, They decided to operate upon him. He was operated on 9th April 2014, and the Doctors, who performed the operation were most surprised to find, after they had opened his stomach, twelve bars of gold weighing nearly 400g (14oz) in his stomach instead of a bottle cap.

Dr CS Ramachandran, a senior surgeon at the hospital says: "This is the first time I have recovered gold from the stomach of a patient. I remember having taken out a bladder stone weighing 1kg from a patient. But finding gold in a patient's stomach was something unbelievable. It was a tedious three-hour-long operation. He is an old patient and we had to be careful. We found 12 gold bars lying in a stack in his stomach." The Doctor also has added: "I have been treating this patient since 1989, when he came for gall bladder removal. He is a wealthy man with a good business in Chandni Chowk and both his sons are settled abroad. It is both surprising and shocking to know that he could do something like this,"

The hospital promptly informed the police about the find and police and customs authorities have since questioned the businessman and have confiscated the gold. After investigations, truth has come out. The man had swallowed the gold biscuits, each weighing 33g, to smuggle them into the country from Singapore 10 days ago. He even managed to elude security checks at airports. The plan, however, failed as the man could not pass the bullion through his stool. He tried everything from drinking lots of fluid to using laxatives but the biscuits stayed in the small intestine causing terrible pain.

Last year, Government of India have hiked the import duty on gold three times to curb demand for Gold. Since then demand for Gold has come down in official markets, but then yellow metal is now being brought in using every legal loopholes as well as by illegal methods. Although it's impossible to calculate exactly how much gold was smuggled into the country in response to import restrictions, the Indian Finance Minister estimates that about 30 to 40 tonnes of gold must have come through unofficial channels. However World Gold Council believes this to be an underestimate and says that smugglers must have brought in around 200 tonnes throughout the year. That is a staggering number, but is likely to be realistic considering the tonnes of gold brought in by air travellers to India. 

Eligible passengers, (Persons of Indian Origin or an Indian returning to India after a period of six months of stay abroad.) are allowed to import gold up to 1 kg as personal baggage by paying 10 per cent customs duty in foreign currency. Between April-December 2013, customs officials seized about 200 kilos of gold from just from three airports in south India—Kochy, Trivandrum and Trichy, compared to just 10 kilos last year. Government has now realised that many unscrupulous elements are smuggling gold by hiring eligible passengers to import gold on their behalf against this 1 Kg rule.

The Government has now tightened baggage rules, requiring inbound Indian passengers to provide details such as source of funds for importing the metal as well as their air tickets. The baggage receipt issued by the Customs will now include the engraved serial number on gold bars and the item-wise list of ornaments. However, it is doubtful whether these measures would bring down the quantities of gold brought in India as smugglers can always find new ways.
The Gold smugglers found a new channel in 2013 to smuggle in Gold from Tibet via Nepal. In August 2013, a small group of Nepali sleuths belonging to Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) of Nepal Police, waited patiently in Nepali capital of Kathmandu. Their patience was rewarded when they saw a white Chinese truck arriving early morning inside the city. They have been tracking this truck for last several days as it trudged and trundles along the long drive from across the border in China on Friendship highway that connects China to Nepal. They had information that a consignment of gold was on its way from Khasa, [a border town in Tibet.] As they checked the truck, they found that it contained a seemingly innocuous cargo of Chinese-made clothes. But hidden in a cylinder inside the vehicle’s front bumper was the latest haul of gold smuggled from Tibet — bars weighing some 35 kilograms (77 pounds) and worth several million dollars on the black market. But the consignment was not destined for Nepal. Nepal’s police and inland revenue department say that the illegal shipment was ultimately destined for neighbouring India.

A total of 69 kilograms of smuggled gold was seized in Nepal in the last six months, most of it from Tibet, compared with 18 kilograms for all of 2012. But Nepal Police say that it is only the tip of the iceberg. Only 10 percent of all smuggled gold is confiscated at the most. A smuggler arrested by Nepal police in December 2012 in fact boasted that there is such an insatiable demand for gold that it was the fourth time in three months, he had smuggled gold into Nepal. Nepali police say that in a typical smuggling run, trucks transport the hidden gold overland from Tibet into Kathmandu, where the yellow metal is shifted to freight trucks that ply the roads between Nepal and India, with the Indian border town of Raxaul as a smuggling hub. Nepal has an open border with India and smuggling of gold from Nepal to India is fairly easy.
Gold smuggling is likely to continue as long as Gold prices in India, remain lucratively higher compared to International prices. Till then, we are likely to have many more persons, who are bound to have a large stomach for Gold.

19th April 2014

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