In a shocking revelation by the Free Press Journal, an alleged extortion racket orchestrated by senior customs officers has come to light, implicating them in coercing importers and Customs House Clearing Agents (CHAs) to pay ₹5 per kg weekly for the clearance of various consumer items. These items range from mobile accessories and ready-made garments to cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and even restricted chemicals.
The extortion demands are purportedly made through collection agents acting on behalf of certain customs officers, who then allegedly refrain from raising objections and expedite the clearance of consignments in the air cargo complex’s import shed. Recordings and diary entries accessed by the Free Press Journal expose top customs officers demanding ₹5 per kg for each import consignment, with approximately 300 metric tonnes cleared monthly at Mumbai Air Cargo.
The investigation sheds light on a corrupt senior officer allegedly pocketing ₹15 lakh, while lower-ranking Group B officers reportedly earn ₹8-10 lakhs monthly. The involvement of high-ranking officers, including Mumbai Air Cargo Customs Commissioner Nilank Kumar, connected to intelligence and investigation branches, adds complexity to the scandal.
The inquiry reveals the role of an individual, identified as SM, with unrestricted access to the air cargo complex, leveraging a logistics company’s entry pass. SM allegedly threatened CHAs for an additional ₹10 per kg, met with resistance from importers citing already exorbitant payments to corrupt customs officials.
“My office is intolerant to any act of harassment to trade and complaints of corruption are immediately acted upon wherever required. The complaints made by CHA and importers are already being enquired and proper action will be taken against anyone if required.”
Denying allegations, Commissioner Nilank Kumar asserted intolerance to harassment and corruption, promising a thorough inquiry. Customs Commissioner Shiril Saroj confirmed an investigation into harassment claims, revealing the transfer of a Customs appraiser implicated in leading the extortion racket.
In another twist, an importer accuses customs officials of deliberately misdeclaring restricted chemicals as lab chemicals, causing significant revenue losses.
As the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC) initiates a crackdown on errant customs officials, the scandal underscores the need for stringent actions against corruption in the system.