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Chennai port customs busts fertilizer smuggling racket

The Chennai Sea Port Customs has busted a multi-crore smuggling racket which involved exporting fertilizer brought into the country by
government for sale at concessional rates to farmers.

Five export agents three from Bangalore and one each from Chennai and Pondicherry have been arrested and 1,464 tonnes of Muriate of Potash (MOP) worth over Rs five crore and meant for export to Malaysia and Vietnam was seized at six container freight stations (CFSs) in Chennai and one at Thoothukudi, said Customs Commissioner C Rajan. Search is on for four more export agents, several middlemen and traders involved in the racket, he said.

The seizure is the outcome of a tip-off received by the Docks Intelligence Unit of Chennai Customs about three weeks ago that MOP was being smuggled out by falsely declaring the consignments as industrial-grade salt. Industrial-grade salt or common salt is sodium chloride, whereas MOP, commonly known as potash, is potassium chloride. False declaration is a serious offence under Customs Act and can invite imprisonment up to three years.

On the basis of the tip-off, Rajan had ordered an inquiry and stopped release of 52 containers (1,317 tonnes) awaiting clearance at six container freight stations Viking, Numbal, ICBC, D R Logistics, Gateway and Chandra on the outskirts of the city. A laboratory analysis later showed that the entire contraband was potash. Over 140 metric tonnes of MOP was also seized at Thoothukudi port.

Investigations have indicated that 49 containers of MOP (1,225 tonnes) have already been sent to a firm named Lotus Global and Trading in Malaysia, about a month ago. The commissioner has therefore ordered the steamer agent to recall the consignment. "Four containers have come back so far and the rest are expected to come in the next 15 days. This is the biggest fertilizer smuggling scam unearthed in recent times," said Rajan.

While potash is imported at $630 per tonne (roughly Rs 30,000) from various nations including Belarus and other European countries, government realizes only Rs 4,455 per tonne (MRP fixed by central government for retail sale) from farmers. The rest, about Rs 26,000 per tonne, is treated as farm subsidy. The smugglers had managed to corner large quantities of the fertilizer at subsidised rates and aimed to exploit the margin of profit in international markets.

Summons have now been issued to owners of nine export firms three Bangalore-based companies, four Chennai-based firms, Pondicherry-based Zandra Trading and Vizag-based Blue Ocean Logistics who had filed the shipping bills and invoices for their alleged involvement in the case.

Source: TOI


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