It was July 1997, flight from Singapore to New Delhi. i had my Indian visa fresh from that morning. With me were seven Samsonite hardshell suite cases and a small carry-on bag. Flew Singapore airlines and arrived at midnight.
When my turn was next at the immigration counter, i felt something wrong. I’ve been in India many times before, all on business. Usually I am greeted with smiles, however, tonight was not going to be a normal night. I had my distributor waiting for me at baggage claim. I was anxious to get out of there and into a car heading for sweet sleep.
“Where is your luggage?”, barked the immigration officer. With tired eyes, I motioned towards baggage claim. “There’, I said. “Go retrieve your bags, and wait there. We will hold onto your passport.” I felt my stomach sink. “Okay”, I thought. “Don’t worry, I am an American businessman. Everything will be cool.”
I walked over and waiting for my seven Samsonite hardshell suitcases to arrive. A guard watched me closely. “I really hope they don’t ask whats in my suitcases…’ I quietly said to myself.
Two luggage trolleys and some help and I was off to a darkened hallway. Musty smells permeated the halls and into the room that I was guided into. “sit down!”, yelled the officer. “Do you know why you are here? Your visa is no good.” I explained that couldn’t be. I had received the visa from the Indian embassy in Singapore. Singapore! No one makes mistakes in Singapore. Again the officer barked at me to keep quiet. Then the truth came out. The government of India realized that the USA was selling weapons to Pakistan and Pakistan was using them against India in Kashmir. I happened to come along at the point where this was exposed.
“What do you want from me”, I asked. Nothing. Not a single word. He motioned to the guard and i was pushed into a detention cell. Without my belongings. “Shit…thats a problem” I thought almost speaking it.
In the cell were two people. One an Indian national caught using a fake British passport and a Swedish national caught for possession of narcotics. Nice cellmates…
Its now 1:30am. Im sure my biz partner is wondering where I am. I asked to call the US embassy. I was told “no…we wont involve them.” What?? “Be cool…and pray they dont open my suitcases… hey, Im hungry. can we order out?” I figured some humour would be ok. At least my two cellmates laughed. The guards just stared at me and walked off.
Twelve hours later…some replacement officer comes up to me and asked what do I have in my wallet. I opened my wallet and produced S$200 . Thats all I had. I was going to the bank that day. “Okay, thats enough. You are free to go. But we keep your passport here until you leave the country.” REALLY?! SERIOUS?! Thats what this was all about?
Great! I got a calling card of the department at the airport where i can pick up my passport. grabbed my stuff and made a cell phone call to a very worried business partner. Within 90 minutes I was out of the airport with all my belongings intact.
What was in the seven suitcases that no one bothered to examine? Duties of LCD projectors brought into India are 210%. In each of the cases was a single projector worth about US$ 11,000. Total I had US$ 77,000 worth of smuggled electronics. If the cases had been opened I still be somewhere in and indian prison. Stupid and lucky at the same time.