TOKYO/BEIJING -- It was midway through Vanilla Air Flight JW172 on July 9 when one of the cabin attendants doing clean-up duty found something peculiar -- in the toilet toward the rear of the aircraft, a panel that was normally screwed tight to the wall was out of position. Peering inside the space the panel had covered, the attendant found three black pouches. Three more pouches were found stashed in a similar place in another toilet on the plane.
The six pouches, it was later revealed, contained several dozen kilograms of gold. Customs officials are investigating what is apparently a case of gold smuggling, one that speaks to the growing level of sophistication among smugglers exploiting budget carriers' tendency to use the same aircraft for both domestic and international flights.