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Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Celebs, parties: Bengaluru Police depend on old drug hauls

None of the arrested has been granted bail so far. Amidst allegations of rampant drug use roiling Bollywood and Mumbai, the Karnataka government has been citing the action as “unprecedented” and proof of its resolve to crack down on the drug mafia.

By: Express News Service | Bengaluru | Updated: September 19, 2020 9:34:03 am
In November 2018, 1.5 kg of cocaine and 1,930 Ecstasy tablets worth estimated Rs 1.5 crore had been seized after the arrest of two African-origin dealers and a former software sector employee, Prateek Shetty, 30, the alleged pointsman for peddling the drugs at parties. (File/Representational)

Two major drug hauls – one in November 2018 and another in August 2020 – lie at the heart of the rapidly expanding investigation by the Bengaluru Police Crime Branch into drug use in the city. It has so far led to the arrest of two high-profile actresses, questioning of many from the film world, as well as several whose claim to fame is throwing high-profile parties, and allegations of political links.

None of the arrested has been granted bail so far. Amidst allegations of rampant drug use roiling Bollywood and Mumbai, the Karnataka government has been citing the action as “unprecedented” and proof of its resolve to crack down on the drug mafia.

However, the police have not managed to make any fresh seizures of drugs from any of the accused.

In November 2018, 1.5 kg of cocaine and 1,930 Ecstasy tablets worth estimated Rs 1.5 crore had been seized after the arrest of two African-origin dealers and a former software sector employee, Prateek Shetty, 30, the alleged pointsman for peddling the drugs at parties.

The August 2020 haul involved the arrest of Anoop Mohammed, Rijesh Ravichandran from Kerala and Anikha Dinesh from Bengaluru, with allegedly 550 Ecstasy pills and 180 LSD blots worth around Rs 20 lakh in the drug market, by the south zone unit of the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB).

The NCB had shared information with the Crime Branch on the use of psychedelic drugs at high-end parties. However, it is the investigations done in the 2018 case — especially the alleged supply network of Shetty – that have led the police to the recent arrests.

The first person picked up by the Crime Branch, soon after the NCB haul, was B K Ravishankar, 37, an employee of the state regional transport office who is said to be a close friend of actress Ragini Dwivedi. The police said Ravishankar was a key intermediary in the supply of drugs at parties.

Ravishankar reportedly named several people involved in the supply and use of party drugs. On September 4, the Crime Branch filed a fresh case naming 12 persons allegedly mentioned by him, including Dwivedi. “In the course of the probe, a search was conducted at the home of actress Ragini Dwivedi. Preliminary investigations have shown involvement in an international drug racket. Efforts are on to find the missing links,” the police said after her arrest.

In the fortnight since, eight others have been arrested, with several, such as party organiser Viren Khanna and bullion trader Vaibhav Jain, named in the November 2018 case as well.

The police alleged that an analysis of the mobile phone and communications of Ravishankar revealed he was in touch with a Senegalese cocaine peddler called Loom Pepper, right uptil April.

Based on Ravishankar’s interrogation, the police also arrested businessmen Prashant Ranka and Rahul Tonse, the latter said to be an associate of actress Sanjjanaa, as well as Sanjjanaa. Aditya Alva, the businessman son of former minister Jeevaraj Alva and brother-in-law of actor Vivek Oberoi, who is not in the country, has been named in the probe. The police have also questioned actor-couple Diganth and Aindrita Ray.

“This is the first time in the country that strong action has been taken against drug use. Drugs are causing harm to students and the youth,” Karnataka CM B S Yediyurappa has stated.

“We will get to the root of the drug trade in the city. All aspects will be known when chargesheets are filed in these cases,” Bengaluru Police Commissioner Kamal Pant has said.

However, with no seizures of drugs from the accused, experts have raised doubts whether cases against them will lead to convictions. “On the face of it the cases may be sensational, but without seizures or evidence of consumption of drugs, these cases may not stand scrutiny in an NDPS (Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances) court,” said a senior lawyer dealing with such cases in Bengaluru courts.

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