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White residue, ‘Talc’ WhatsApp group, hawala — how Rs 21,000-cr Mundra drug bust was ‘cracked’

NIA chargesheet, accessed by ThePrint, tells the story of an audacious heroin racket with links from Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan, to Punjab, UP, Tamil Nadu.

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New Delhi: White residue scattered on the floor of a Delhi warehouse, a WhatsApp group named ‘Talc’, and records of money sent to Afghanistan through hawala channels. These were among the clues, it is learnt, that led investigators to unravel the record drug haul at the Adani-owned Mundra Port in Gujarat last year.

In September 2021, the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) made India’s biggest drug haul yet: 3,000 kg of heroin, worth over Rs 21,000 crore on the international market, concealed in a consignment of semi-processed talc stones and believed to have been smuggled into the country via Iran.

Behind this massive drug racket was a “well-oiled system” allegedly run and funded from Afghanistan, and a motley bunch of key characters who efficiently pushed drugs into India with the aim of selling it in the country.

Furthermore, a source in the National Investigation Agency (NIA) said, the drug proceeds from India were “repatriated to Afghanistan to finance terror activities”.

Evidence collected by the NIA shows how the ring forged “a dozen documents”, including GST invoices, custom clearance certificates, and company records, “greased many palms”, and rented premises in Delhi to store the drugs before distributing them in the Indian market through a network of peddlers, the source added.

For a while, they got away with it too.

“The accused successfully evaded security agencies in June last year, when they had sent one consignment and successfully sold it in the Indian market, making crores. But the second consignment, which came in September, was detected and seized,” the NIA source said.

“The men sitting in Afghanistan”, he added, had an entire network of operatives working for them in Iran and India. In Delhi, members of the racket hired a farmhouse in Sainik Farms and a warehouse in Alipur to store and purify the heroin, after which it “was distributed to peddlers to be sold in the market”, the source said.

In the last six months, the NIA has arrested 10 people: five Afghan nationals and five Indians. Six others — one Iranian and five Afghan nationals — are still on the run.

The NIA’s chargesheet, filed this Monday, names all 16 of these accused.

Graphic: ThePrint Team
Graphic: ThePrint Team

Among those who are yet to come into the net are two of the key accused — Afghan nationals Mohammad Hussain Dad and Mohammad Hassan, owners of M/s Hasan Hussain Ltd, Kandahar, who allegedly ran and funded the entire operation.

According to the NIA source, some employees of the Mundra Port are also under investigation for their suspected involvement in the drug racket, although the chargesheet has not named them.

The Adani Group has sought to distance itself from the case, saying in a statement last year that no port operator across the country can examine a container, and that their role is limited to running ports.

ThePrint spoke with an NIA source and gained exclusive access to the agency’s chargesheet to piece together a picture of an alleged drug racket that was as large-scale as it was intricate, with links from Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan, to Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu.


Also Read: How drugs are brought into India: In weddings cards, by drones and hidden in sea cargo


‘White residue on floor helped crack racket’

On 12 September last year, two containers arrived at Mundra Port in Gujarat from Afghanistan via Iran, ostensibly holding a total of 38 jumbo bags filled with talc stones. Based on intelligence inputs, however, investigators of the DRI suspected there was more to the cargo.

When the containers were checked, three out of the 38 bags were found to contain heroin. Out of the 18 jumbo bags in the first container, two were found to contain a total weight of 1999.58 kg of heroin. In the second container, which had 20 bags, one was found to contain 988 kg of heroin.

According to the NIA, the consignment was sent by M/s Hasan Hussain Ltd, Kandahar, owned by Mohammad Hussain Dad and Mohammad Hassan from Afghanistan, and was meant for M/s Aashi Trading Company, owned by D.P. Vaishali, a woman from Chennai, Tamil Nadu.

When records of both companies were checked, investigators found that, in June, a similar consignment had reached India and was given clearance.

The DRI then tracked the June consignment to a warehouse in Alipur, Delhi, where they found a new lead in the case — white residue scattered on the floor.

“Tracking that consignment took DRI to an Alipur warehouse, where the goods in the June consignment were stored. When a search was conducted on 17 September, the warehouse was found to be empty. But, when the floor of the warehouse was swept, 16.105 kg of white residue was collected,” the NIA source said, adding that it was sent for testing and found to be positive for heroin.

File image of Mundra port | Wikimedia Commons
File image of Mundra port | Wikimedia Commons

According to the NIA chargesheet, seen by ThePrint, the warehouse was hired in the name of Pradeep Kumar by one Afghan national, Hussain. Part of the consignment from here is believed to have gone to a farmhouse in Delhi.

Meanwhile, a Punjab link to the drug consignment is believed to have emerged.

On 1 July 2021, the Punjab Police had recovered 500 grams of heroin from two men, Sarabjit Singh and Gagandeep. Based on a tip-off from them, they raided a farmhouse in Delhi’s Sainik Farms on 5 July. The police seized 16.5 kg of heroin from this location, where it was allegedly being purified, and arrested four people; investigators also discovered that the farmhouse had been allegedly rented by an Afghan national called Khalid.

The NIA chargesheet shows that investigators soon put two and two together: the drugs seized by the Punjab Police, according to investigators, were part of the same consignment that was offloaded at Alipur in June 2021.

“When details of this case and its link to an Afghan national emerged, further investigation revealed that the consignment which came to India in June and was then stored at Alipur, had then been sent to Sainik Farms and a warehouse in Gurgaon and Ghaziabad, for purification,” the NIA source said.

“From here, the final product was given to peddlers to be sold in the market in UP and Punjab,” the source said, adding that the strings were pulled from Afghanistan.

‘A well-oiled system’

According to the NIA source, the masterminds of the operation to smuggle drugs into India via Iran and then distribute them to peddlers were Afghan brothers Mohammad Hussain Dad and Mohammad Hassan. A “well-oiled system” was put in place to execute the plan, he said.

To begin with, an Iranian national, Javad Najafi, was allegedly roped in by the brothers to “extend logistical support” at Bandar Abbas Port in Iran for the smooth clearance of the drug consignment and its safe shipment to India.

Najafi was also tasked with finding someone in India who could act as a consignee for such shipments. “They needed one person in India for handling logistical work at Mundra Port and to transfer the drugs to the warehouse,” the NIA source said.

This is where three Indian nationals from Tamil Nadu — Rajkumar Perumal and a married couple, Machavaram Sudhakar and D.P. Vaishali — are said to have come into the picture.

According to the chargesheet, Najafi approached Rajkumar in May 2021 and asked him to help at Mundra Port with the import, clearance, and onward transportation of the consignment. Rajkumar then approached Sudhakar, who offered to help and act as a consignee. Sudhakar, the chargesheet says, agreed to accept the consignments under the name of Vaishali’s company, Aashi Trading.

Sudhakar, the chargesheet adds, also signed up to handle the work of import, customs clearance, and onward transportation for monetary benefits.

The “consigner company” was Hasan Hussain Ltd, Kandahar, which had a business licence issued by the erstwhile Islamic republic of Afghanistan, the NIA source said. The company was, on the face of it, engaged in shipping semi-processed talc stones but this was allegedly just a front for the drug operation.

“The shipping documents were prepared accordingly — from Hassan Hussain Ltd to Aashi Traders and that is how the first consignment of drugs reached India,” the NIA source said.

To coordinate the group’s activities and share documents, Rajkumar Perumal created a WhatsApp group in June 2021, called ‘Talc’, where Najafi, Sudhakar, Dad, and others were members.

“As part of technical evidence, we have the analysis report of the WhatsApp group Talc,” the NIA source said. “It establishes communication between them. Besides discussing the preparation and implementation of this conspiracy, they were also sharing documents with each other. All this has been made part of the chargesheet.”

An analysis report of other suspects’ phone numbers with tower locations established their presence at the Alipur warehouse where the heroin was stored, the chargesheet says.


Also Read: Heroin worth Rs 1,000 cr, mid-sea ops — how NCB unearthed Pakistan, Sri Lanka-based syndicate


Fake invoices, custom clearance licences—how the drugs entered India

The first consignment of drugs was allegedly shipped to India on 2 June last year. It sailed right through since all the required documents for shipping and customs clearance were in place.

Sudhakar, the NIA source said, had turned out to be an efficient hire for the racket: he not only employed the services of a shipping agent, container provider, and a customs broker, but also arranged for the transport of the drugs to the Alipur warehouse.

“That shipment arrived in Mundra on 5 June, in 22 bags with a weight 24,730 kg. It was shipped from Iran in a 20-ft container along with all documents such as the invoice, packing list, certificate of origin, and more,” the source added.

The customs clearance for this consignment took place on the basis of a bill of entry (BoE) filed by a customs company that Sudhakar had hired, it is learnt. After clearance, the consignment was allegedly taken to a waiting trailer that transported it to the Alipur warehouse. The NIA source said that Najibullah Khan Khalid, one of the co-accused and an Afghan national, “guided the driver to Alipur”.

According to the chargesheet, to transport the consignment, Sudhakar also fabricated an invoice dated 19 June, showing the sale of the said consignment by Aashi Trading to one Kuldeep Singh in Alipur.

“Per the invoice, 24,730 kg of semi processed talc stones was shown as sold for a total amount of Rs 9,16,617. It was signed by Sudhakar’s wife as the authorised signatory of Aashi Traders,” the source said.

D.P. Vaishali, Sudhakar’s wife, was no unwitting accomplice either.

“She agreed to allow him to use her firm for benami import of stones and facilitating smuggling of heroin. She willingly signed all documents relating to import, customs clearance, and sale of semi-processed talc stones to a fictitious buyer in Delhi, thereby facilitating transportation of drugs,” the NIA source said, adding that she also allowed the use of her company’s bank account to send money from India to Afghanistan.

‘Drug operation funded by Afghan national’

Afghan national Hussain Dad funded and kept track of the operations in India from Afghanistan for the most part, except for a visit in June 2021 to keep tabs on the first consignment, the NIA source said.

He paid for the import clearance and transportation of the June 2021 consignment from Mundra Port to Delhi, the NIA investigation revealed. He also allegedly shelled out Rs 9 Lakh to Sudhakar to arrange for all the logistics at Mundra Port and for the smooth transportation of the drugs to Alipur.

According to the chargesheet, for the September 2021 consignment, Dad gave funds to co-accused Alokozai Mohammad Khan, an Afghan national, to pay an advance to the customs clearing agent, Sanard Shipping.

“Dad paid all this money to Sudhakar and Alokozai through hawala. We have also recovered a part of the said cash amount from a witness who had received money from Sudhakar to help him,” the NIA source said.

The bank statements of Sudhakar, his wife Vaishali, and others established that Dad funded the entire operation, he added.

“Money for the cargo, transportation of drugs to Delhi, storage at rental warehouses, money paid to stakeholders, and other logistical expenses… it was all being taken care of by Dad and paid through cash. These transactions were routed through hawala operators in Delhi,” the source said, adding that to “project legitimacy of the transactions”, the money that came from Dad was converted into bank deposits.

The chargesheet notes that there is evidence that co-accused Najibullah Khan Khalid, who is still at large, engaged Afghan hawala operators who worked from Balli Maran in Chandni Chowk, Delhi, to handle financial transactions for the drug syndicate.

According to “handwritten accounts” maintained by an employee of these hawala operators, a total of Rs 76.59 crore, earned from selling drugs, was sent to Afghanistan from India through hawala channels, the NIA source said.

What’s more, it most likely wasn’t just used to fund a lavish lifestyle.

“The money earned from selling heroin in India was repatriated to Afghanistan to finance terror activities from abroad,” the source added.

The ‘larger racket’ and Taliban link

According to the chargesheet, the investigation in the case has pointed towards a “larger racket” that is run from Afghanistan with the help of handlers in Pakistan.

“International drug traffickers hailing from Afghanistan and Iran smuggle huge quantities of heroin to India and earn funds, which are then transferred to foreign countries. These traffickers are in contact with terrorist organisations based in Pakistan,” the NIA source said.

Moreover, he added, there is evidence that key accused Hussain Dad is “directly linked with the Taliban and has its support”.

The NIA believes that through the Taliban, Dad has links with terror groups in Pakistan and “enjoyed their active support to carry out subversive activities against India”, the source told ThePrint.

The chargesheet also mentions that Dad was using one Indian and one Pakistani SIM through which he was in touch with people based in Pakistan.

(Edited by Asavari Singh)


Also Read: 8 years in US prison, ‘drug hauls, money laundering’: The murky past of Paradiso’s Ashok Solomon


 

 

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