Bangladesh seizes 27 kg of gold from North Korean diplomat

DHAKA (AFP) - Bangladeshi customs authorities seized nearly 27 kilograms of gold, worth 130 million taka (S$2.3 million), from a North Korean diplomat on Friday after he tried to smuggle in the bullion using diplomatic immunity.

Armed police and customs officials at Dhaka airport challenged Son Young Nam, the first secretary of the North Korean embassy in the city, on Thursday night after he arrived on a flight from Singapore.

"He insisted that his bags cannot be scanned because he's carrying a red passport and he enjoys diplomatic immunity," Moinul Khan, head of Bangladesh's customs intelligence department, told AFP.

Khan said the diplomat was told that gold weighing more than two kilograms could not be carried in.

"After more than four hours of drama, he gave in and we found gold bars and gold ornaments weighing 26.795 kilograms, which is worth 130 million taka, from his hand-bag," he added.

The diplomat who was accompanied by the North Korean ambassador to Dhaka on his flight from Singapore, was "released under the Vienna Convention but the gold was confiscated," Khan added.

Bangladeshi customs authorities are set to prosecute the diplomat under the country's harsh anti-smuggling laws after they get the go-ahead from the foreign ministry and the North Korean authorities are informed.

"It's a clear case of smuggling. We believe he would have sold the gold to a local criminal racket. He is being used as a carrier," Khan said, adding that if convicted he could face a maximum life term in prison.

The gold seizure came after local customs authorities recently said Bangladesh's two international airports have seen a big rise in illegal gold movement, with smugglers frequently caught red-handed.

Official figures showed the customs intelligence teams have seized nearly one tonne of the precious metal in the past 22 months, compared with just 15 kilograms captured over the previous five-year period.

The gold is mostly smuggled in from Gulf nations and then sent to India through the country's porous 4,000 kilometre land border.

Smuggling is thought to have increased largely due to India's imposition of strict import duties on gold.

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