NAGOYA - Japanese police have arrested six people over an elaborate scheme to smuggle gold bars into the country in an airplane toilet to avoid paying tax.
The Aichi prefectural police said the suspects are believed to have been part of a much wider ring, given the number of incidents last year in which gold bars were found hidden in airplane toilets, reported The Asahi Shimbun.
The alleged ringleader is a Sri Lankan national, Muhammed Rafieque Muhammed Rezane, 48, who is the president of a used car dealership in Nagoya's Minato Ward.
The suspects are believed to have attempted to smuggle five gold bars weighing 5kg and worth about 22.8 million yen (S$275,000) on July 23, 2017. That would have attracted about 1.82 million yen in consumption tax if they went through customs.
To dodge the levy, the group members had different roles in the scheme, the police said.
One man started the operation by carrying the gold bars onto a Japan Airlines flight in Taiwan that was bound for Chubu Airport, near Nagoya.
During the flight, he hid the gold under a panel behind a toilet on the plane.
After the plane landed, it was to be used for a domestic flight to Tokyo's Haneda Airport. A second member of the gang would board the flight to Tokyo, retrieve the bars, and then carry them out of the airport.
Passengers on domestic flights do not need to go through customs.
However, the scheme came undone when an alert customs officer at Chubu Airport discovered the gold bars in the toilet. Customs officer suspect the same method was used to repeatedly smuggle gold bars into Japan.
Among the gang members, two Japanese men in their 70s were held for allegedly selling the gold bars for cash, making dozens of sales to a Nagoya dealer between December 2016 and the summer of 2017, reported The Asahi Shimbun.
After the pair took their cut, the remaining money was given to a 38-year-old Malaysian man who was in charge of managing the funds, the police said.
Between July and August 2017, gold bars were found in the toilets of planes used for international flights landing at Chubu Airport and Kansai International Airport. The planes were scheduled to be used for domestic flights after arriving in Japan. Other airlines have also been used by the smuggling ring.
Aviation industry sources said it was possible to make an educated guess on the schedule of such planes based on flight information available to the public.