The seizure of 6kg of cocaine at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport on Wednesday has brought to light a new modus operandi of smuggling drugs into the city.
The two women caught with the narcotic had booked onward flights to other countries, with a one-day transit stop at Mumbai. Customs officials say transit passengers are normally not checked as vigorously as regular ones.
"They had booked tickets for Singapore from Benin in West Africa, via Mumbai. They would have left for Singapore immediately after handing over the drug,” a Customs officer said.
However, the air intelligence unit (AIU) of the Customs had specific information about cocaine being smuggled in this fashion, and had laid a trap for the two women.
An AIU team headed by deputy commissioner of Customs Sameer Wankhede first stopped Edyma Siregar, 45, an Indonesian woman, on her arrival at the airport soon after she alighted from the Ethiopian Airlines plane at 5am on Wednesday.
Her accomplice, Ly Lygocle, 64, a Vietnamese national, who was walking some distance behind her, panicked and rushed to the immigration counter, ostensibly to purchase the 40-dollar one-day transit visa so that she could exit from the airport.
However, she was also stopped, as the officials had become suspicious of her movements. On checking their luggage, each carrying a suitcase, the authorities found the cocaine in the false bottoms of the bags.
During questioning, the women said that they were given $2,000 (Rs1.11 lakh) each to deliver the drug, and claimed they were taking it to other countries. While Siregar said she was given the drug by her boyfriend in Benin, and was to deliver it in East Timor, a Southeast Asian country, Lygocle said she also got the cocaine in Benin, and was asked to smuggle it to Indonesia.
The AIU, however, suspects the two are giving false statements to protect the identity of the Mumbai recipient. “They had Mumbai stamps on their passports, and we suspect that they were to take a halt in the city to deliver the cocaine,” the official said.