While Atanasio (Babush) Monserrate, Minister for Education, Government of Goa managed to release himself from the predicament of being caught and questioned with USD 250000 and Rs 30 lacs in cash at the Mumbai International airport while boarding an Emirates flight to Dubai thanks to a phone call from a senior Congress leader of Cabinet rank in the Centre to custom officials urging them to set him free at his brief arrest; what has not yet been answered and it is important for officials in the Central Vigilance, Central and State Custom Authorities and Airport Authority of India to investigate the reasons behind which, the minister was allowed to travel with an amount of foreign currency beyond permissible limited approved by the Government of India t without being stopped or questioned at the Goa Dabolim airport.
Babush had boarded an Air India domestic flight from Goa-Mumbai in the evening of April 1, 2011 and was expected to catch an Emirates flight EK-509 from Mumbai to Dubai which was the depart from the Mumbai International airport on the same day at 22.35 pm. Sources reveal that contrary to reports that state that the money could have been delivered to Babush in Mumbai and not leave from Goa. Our investigations and sources reveal that the money had indeed left from Goa.
Babush claims that he was carrying USD 25,000 in travelers’ cheques; AED 70,000 and Rs 63,000 in cash and that he caught a Saturday morning 4.15 flight to Mumbai and then was to board an Emirates flight to Dubai at 10.25 am. If Babush claims are to be believed that he did indeed travel on Saturday morning, then it would be difficult since here are flights available on that morning according to Emirates Flight details – EK 501 at 4.30 am, EK 505 at 9.45 am, EK 507 1.15 pm and EK 503 at 7.00pm followed by EK 509 at 10.35pm. And there is no 10.25 am flight, more importantly it would be difficult for him to explain what senior custom officers were doing investigating him from April 2, 2010 at 12.30am if he was not in Mumbai.
When the minister underwent a screening at the Mumbai International Airport it was revealed that his baggage contained cash; following which he was asked to follow the customs and security officers for questioning. However, if the baggage screening in Mumbai indicated the presence of cash in his baggage, how come it failed to reveal itself at the airport baggage screening point at the Goa airport. Either it means the screening equipments that are utilized at the Goa airport are not of the standards or quality used at the Mumbai airport, leading to a more serious question on the security in case of a terror-related incident. If that is not the question and the equipments are off government approved standards set across all airports in India. Then it is important to investigate the other possibility on whether the Goa airport officials were aware of the minister’s travel plans and whether they were bribed in order to let him pass without a question or search, or were they just too scared to question a Cabinet minister.
GoaChronicle.com did speak to custom officials in Goa post the incident, however, according to a senior official on condition of anonymity, the violation of carrying foreign currency only comes into play when a passenger boards an international flight from Goa, the custom has no role on a domestic flight and since Babush travelled from Goa-Mumbai it is the responsibility of the airport security officers rather than the custom officers to see if there is a violation of any government travel-related restrictions on a domestic flight. But to the best of his knowledge the official claimed that there is no restriction from airport authorities of carrying cash on a domestic flight.
Our attempts to contact and get comments from the airport security authorities and officers met with no result as nobody wants to comment on what transpired on April 1 evening at the Goa airport saying that GoaChronicle.com would need to check with the airlines, since airport security does not keep a track of every passengers or their flight details.
Opposition party leaders and some leaders in the current Congress government state that this is not the first a minister has been travelling with foreign currency to Middle-East; U.A.E and Qatar being the most favored destination. It is the first time some in caught; in fact they revealed that early last month a South Goa political big-wig popularly known for his ‘squealing pigs’ statement travelled with some friends to Dubai, it was reported that he too was carrying foreign currency to the tune of Rs 60 lacs. However, he and his entourage managed to give customs and security a slip not only in Goa but Mumbai as well. Indicating that along the way, there is a possibility that there might be a connection between the ministers from Goa and airport officials in Goa and Mumbai, which would explain the transfer of amount beyond permissible limits of foreign currency out of India.