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Rs 2000 crore Ephedrine haul probe: US DEA joins Mumbai Police

Investigators said international contours of the racket were emerging, with evidence indicating that one of the arrested accused travelled to Kenya in January this year where he met alleged drug lord Vijay ‘Vicky’ Goswami.

Written by Mohamed Thaver | Mumbai | Published: April 28, 2016 9:14:53 am
pills-reu-759 Thane Police had seized 18.5 tonnes of banned drug Ephedrine, valued at Rs 2,000 crore, from the Solapur facility of a chemical-manufacturing firm, earlier this month. (Representational/Reuters)

The United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has joined the Thane police in their investigation into an international drug racket after the seizure of 20.5 tonnes of the banned drug Ephedrine by the latter. Investigators said international contours of the racket were emerging, with evidence indicating that one of the arrested accused travelled to Kenya in January this year where he met alleged drug lord Vijay ‘Vicky’ Goswami.

Goswami was arrested and his partner Mamta Kulkarni, a former Bollywood starlet, was detained in Kenya in 2014 on charges of drug trafficking, about two years after the former was released from a Dubai prison where he had been convicted on similar charges.

After making four arrests earlier, the Thane police nabbed Manoj Jain, a director with Avon Lifesciences Ltd, Puneet Shringi and Hardeep Singh Gill alias Sardar in connection with the case on Tuesday, taking the number of total arrests in the case to seven.

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Investigators said they suspected Jain went to Kenya this January and met Goswami. They allegedly discussed plans to set up a factory in Mombasa where they could use the Ephedrine coming from India to cook Meth and supply the popular party drug in the US and European countries. It was in a Solapur unit of Avon Lifesciences that the Thane police found the huge haul of Ephedrine earlier this month.

“Jain was the person who was in touch with Vicky Goswami, the international druglord. We suspect that he along with four others had met him in January this year and are verifying the same,” said Thane Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh.

He said a three-member team from the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) contacted the Thane police Tuesday with information on the drug racket. A DEA team reached Thane Wednesday and met the investigators.

“In fact, the letter given to us by the three-member DEA team that visited us on Wednesday mentioned Jain, along with his passport details, as the person who was coordinating with Goswami, who would then supply the drugs to various countries,” Singh said.

According to investigators, Shringi had been brought into Avon Lifesciences to oversee the making of Ephedrine and its transport across India. The police had been looking for Shingri, 46, a Virar resident, for the past few days. The police found 10 kg Ephedrine in his car.

Gill, 42, was reportedly the driver who transported the substance to different parts of the country.

Singh said the DEA letter also named another director of Avon Lifesciences. “We are questioning him. Depending upon what information we get, appropriate action will be taken,” he said, adding that more arrests were likely.

Singh said while they suspected the company had been diverting the drug for the past year, the DEA letter said the company had been used for illegal purposes since 2013.

Deputy Commissioner of Police Parag Manere said Ephedrine was an important ingredient in the cooking of Meth, also known as Crystal, a party drug in high demand in the international market, especially in Europe and the US.

“Apart from that, the raw Ephedrine from the unit was also being used as a drug directly that was being peddled by a Nigerian national in Kalyan whose arrest on April 18 led us to the entire case,” said Manere.

ACP Bharat Shelke of the Thane Anti Narcotics Cell, the investigating officer, said there was one Dr Abdul in Kenya who was training them to purify the Ephedrine for use as Meth.

Ephedrine, the sale of which is banned in India, is popularly used overseas to treat asthma and bronchitis. Its abuse is known to cause euphoria, hypertension and nausea. The police said only three companies in India had the permission to produce Every company that uses or produces the drug needs to get a permission certificate from the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) every time it supplies it or get a supply from another company. In this case, nearly 10 tonnes of Ephedrine was unaccounted for.

Based on the interrogation of a Nigerian national arrested on April 18, a number of drug peddlers were arrested who eventually led the Thane police to the office of Avon Lifesciences Ltd in Solapur from where they allegedly recovered the 18.5 tonnes of Ephedrine. The police then arrested the senior production manager of the unit. The Gujarat Police too are probing a similar case where 1,310 kg of Ephedrine suspected to be from the Solapur unit was smuggled to Ahmedabad.

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