Officials in India have reported on a new innovation by smugglers looking to bypass gold import restrictions and high tariffs: Grinding gold into dust, and mixing it in with henna. Henna, or mehndi, is a temporary dye used in body art and hair coloring. Brides throughout the Eastern Mediterranean to India traditionally have their face, arms and hands decorated with henna for their weddings.
It was reported that customs authorities seized 100 kg of gold dust being smuggled in henna packets at several airports just in the last week. Investigators admit that a large percentage of seized gold is due to informants tipping off officials at airports. Finance Minister P. Chidambaram told reporters last week that up to 3 tons of gold a week is estimated to be successfully smuggled into the country, but that it is a small price to pay for staunching the flow of capital out of the nation. India until last year was the world’s largest importer of gold.