The Mumbai Customs Airport Special Cargo Commissionerate has unearthed a major scam wherein antiques used by British royalty were brought into the country as everyday silverware to evade duty.
Though the illegal import was detected in December 2021, a show-cause notice was issued to the importer, M/s Galupia, in October this year after an expert panel confirmed that the items were over 100 years old.
Officials at the Precious Cargo Customs Clearance Centre told The Free Press Journal that they intercepted a consignment of 169.769kg antiques worth Rs 2,048,936 but undervalued at Rs1,01,23,813.
The smuggled artefacts sourced from prominent London-based antique dealer Michael Sedler Antiques Ltd included Hungarian tea and coffee sets and trays in silver, candelabra and cocktail bar sets.
Most tea and coffee sets weighed between 3kg and 5kg while trays were as heavy as 6kg. Galupia’s proprietor Kunal Jain, in his statement to the Customs Department, admitted importing silverware but denied that the items were used by the British royalty.
When contacted by The Journal, he refused to comment on the summons and notice. A high level government panel comprising experts from the Archaeological Survey of India, the Department of Museums, and the Department of Archives and Historians confirmed in its report that 21 out of 27 silverware items were over 100 years old. Silver artefacts over 100 years old fall under the ‘antique goods’ category and attract higher levies.
A senior customs official told the FPJ that the importer intentionally misdeclared antique consignments to evade customs duties. The items were later auctioned to the highest bidder online, he said. He said antiques were also brought in by taking advantage of laxity in checking during the Covid19 pandemic.
It is being probed if the importer smuggled similar antiques in the past as well. An official said that Mr Jain claimed to have contacted overseas suppliers and negotiated the rates but could not provide any agreement or contract.
He said, “Mr Jain failed to justify higher prices of similar articles on the catalogues of Michael Sedler and insisted all payments were legal and transactions conducted through banking channels. Smuggled antiques are liable for confiscation with penalty and interest on duty.”
“The importer was remitting the amount declared in the bill of entry as value of imported goods to foreign suppliers through banking channels, while the differential amount was paid through hawala channels,” alleges a Customs internal memo