The Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) has intensified its search for nation-level shooter Prasant Bishnoi, one of the main accused in the arms-smuggling operation the agency busted last month.
“A special court in Delhi has rejected Bishnoi’s plea for anticipatory bail. He can’t keep running,” Raj Kumar Digvijay, additional director, DRI, Delhi zone, told HT on Monday. Bishnoi’s passport has already been seized.
Between May 28 and May 30, the DRI recovered more than 100 firearms and 200,000 cartridges and arrested two renowned shooters, Amit Goel and Anil Kumar Langan and an arms dealer from Slovenia, Boris Sobotic Mikolic. The raid on Bishnoi’s ancestral residence in Meerut yielded a huge cache of imported arms and ammunition, animal parts and rupees one crore in cash.
DRI officials have found that taking advantage of lenient import rules meant for renowned shooters, hundreds of firearms have been brought into the country. Many of these have been sold at sky-high prices to non-sportspersons who have valid gun licence and the money but barred from importing by a ban enforced in 1984.
“The investigation will take time. There are many leads to be followed,” a senior DRI official told HT. The syndicate relied on gaps in import procedures and a lot of paperwork. Fake shooter identity proofs are suspected to have been used to import guns that have no use in precision shooting. The DRI is following these paper trails.
While Mikolic, Goyal and Langan were caught at Delhi international airport for trying to enter India with 25 weapons as part of luggage, investigators have found that in recent years weapons and parts of weapons have been shipped to India through post as well.
Documents accessed by HT shows that different offices of the directorate general of foreign trade have received applications for import of accessories and weapons (for example, .22 bore conversion kits for Colt 1911 pistols and .357 Sig pistols) that have no use in competitions but fetch high price in the market.
Clearly, the smuggling syndicate was capitalizing on the ban on gun import by civilians. In India, used and old firearms dating from periods before Independence till 1984 keep changing hands and prices go up with every sale because of the huge mismatch in demand and supply. This happens more because people prefer foreign guns to weapons made by the Indian ordnance factories.
“We heard that a politician recently bought a .357 Sig pistol for Rs 86 lakh.” said a well-informed gun shop owner in Lucknow. “This parallel arms business runs on undeclared cash and deprives the government of huge revenue. Many people related to the shooting sport have even obtained trade licence to set up shops,” he added.
Among the weapons seized by DRI, the pistols by Glock (Austria), Beretta (Italy and USA) and rifles by Blaser (Germany) are the most in demand. Dealers said, Glocks sell for anything between Rs 50 and 60 lakh though the retail price in USA is around USD 600. The Beretta Model 84 FS fetches between Rs 25 to Rs 35 lakh whereas its price is less than USD 700. Blaser rifles sell for Rs 18 and Rs 40 lakh depending on accessories.
Interestingly, the most expensive handguns seized are the .45 double-barrel pistols made by Arsenal (Italy). Fed through two eight-round magazines, the unique Arsenal pistol fires two rounds with the squeeze of any of the two triggers. Weighing four pounds without ammo, the beefy Arsenal pistol is used mostly as back-up weapon by big game hunters. It costs around USD 4,300 in the USA, making it one of the most expensive handguns ever made.
Gun shop owners HT talked to could not state for sure the price the Arsenal double-barrel pistols were selling for, but most of them said it was likely to be around Rs one crore, given the market conditions.