Cocaine found in sealed consignment on ship from Brazil to Vizag sparks political firestorm | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

Cocaine found in sealed consignment on ship from Brazil to Vizag sparks political firestorm

By, Hyderabad
Mar 23, 2024 05:50 AM IST

Drug bust in Visakhapatnam port involving cocaine in bags meant for fish feed triggers political blame game in Andhra Pradesh.

A ship from Brazil, a lightning check by CBI under “Operation Garuda”, a programme to combat drug cartels, and some cocaine in bags that ostensibly contained dried yeast meant to serve as fish feed — a series of events over the past three days at the Visakhapatnam port have roiled Andhra Pradesh’s politics, with every political player in the state, from the ruling YSRCP to the opposition TDP and BJP that are now in alliance, accusing their rival of being involved in the drug trade.

The Central Bureau of Investigation has registered an FIR against Visakhapatnam-based Sandhya Aqua Exports (HT Photo)
The Central Bureau of Investigation has registered an FIR against Visakhapatnam-based Sandhya Aqua Exports (HT Photo)

On Thursday, the Central Bureau of Investigation registered an FIR against Visakhapatnam-based Sandhya Aqua Exports, the company which booked a consignment from “Santos Port, Brazil”, reportedly carrying a thousand bags of inactive dried yeast, each weighing 25kg. “However on preliminary examination, through Narcotics Substances detection mechanisms, it appears that the material shipped contains narcotics drugs mixed with inactive dried yeast. The whole consignment has been seized and an FIR has been registered against the consignee and unknown others,” a statement issued by CBI on Thursday said.

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CBI claimed that it had acted based on a tip-off from Interpol, and the “operation indicates the involvement of an international criminal network engaged in importing narcotics drugs by way of mixing it with other substances commonly known as cutting agents”.

The central agency’s report, seen by HT, documents that when the raid first took place on Tuesday, the container in question was found sealed, which the CBI team then asked Visakhapatnam port authorities to break open in public view. “All the 1,000 bags of 25kg each in 20 different pallets inside were taken out in the presence of Sandhya Aqua’s authorised representative RVLN Giridhar and company representatives Puri Srinivasa Krishanamacharya Srikant and K Bharath Kumar after duly informing them,” the report said.

The team then preceded to take out one bag from each of the 20 pallets at random, opened them, and tested the goods using a NCB drugs detection kit. “During examination by the drug detection test, it was found that the material tested positive for cocaine/methaqualone for all the 20 bags taken out randomly from each of the 20 pallets,” the CBI report added.

The report also documents that Giridhar told the investigation authorities that the company was importing the material for the first time and was unaware about its composition.

On Friday, Sandhya Aqua issued a statement, confirming the searches by CBI but claiming it was innocent. The company said it has been in the business of manufacturing feed, farming and processing of shrimp since 2005, and recently set up a shrimp feed plant in West Godavari district. “With a view to source ‘dry yeast’ which is an important raw material in the manufacturing of shrimp feed, we have consulted various industry majors and nutritionists for a viable and quality vendor. In turn we have been advised to source ‘dry yeast’ from ICC, Brazil for the highest quality raw product. The said ICC, Brazil markets the same under the commercial name ‘Star Yeast 370’. Our Company placed a Purchase Order to ICC, Brazil for a quantity of 25,000kg of dry yeast for the first time as a trial run and made full payment for the consignment even before its voyage commenced.”

The consignment, Sandhya Aqua said, was certified by the ministry of agriculture in Brazil on January 17, and was shipped from Santos, through Hamburg in Germany, and arrived in India on March 16, after which it was opened by CBI on March 19. In its statement, the company added that “only traces” of drugs were found in the consignment and vowed its support to the country’s war against drugs.

The drug bust set off a political storm, with the TDP’s chief ministerial candidate N Chandrababu Naidu posting on X, “The timing of such a massive drug consignment entering AP raises serious questions. What intentions could the ruling party have had for these drugs, especially with the upcoming elections?”

To be sure, there is no information on the exact quantity of cocaine found.

Speaking to reporters at Mangalagiri, a TDP spokesperson further alleged that during the raid on Tuesday, various state government officials converged at the site, causing a delay in proceedings. He also alleged that managing director of Sandhya, Kunam Veerabhadra Rao and his family were “supporters of YSRCRP”, and one of them was also made the chairman of the Primary Agriculture Cooperative Society.

Visakhapatnam police commissioner Ravi Shankar Ayyannar refuted allegations of the administration causing a delay, and said that the police are functioning under the directions of the Election Commission of India with the model code of conduct now in force. “In fact, the Visakhapatnam port falls outside our jurisdiction as it is a private port. CBI’s DSP initially requested our assistance with the dog squad, but changed his plan later, saying they would conduct their own testing at the Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL),” he said.

YSRCP leaders countered that it was the opposition alliance that had connections with the company’s promoters, alleging that Chandrababu Naidu’s sister-in-law and state BJP president Daggubatti Purandeshwari had “close links with the company”.

“Yet, the TDP and the BJP are trying to politicise the ongoing investigation by the CBI. It is like calling a thief shouting from rooftop alerting people about the theft,” YSRCP general secretary Sajjala Ramakrishna Reddy said. He alleged that Purandeshwari’s son Daggubati Hitesh, held a position in Sandhya Aqua, although not on the company board.

Though Purandeshwari did not respond to the allegations, BJP state official spokesperson Sadhineni Yamini said that a desperate YSRCP was now resorting to “mud slinging”. “It is unfortunate that the state government has failed to detect the drug smuggling till the central agency from Delhi came down to Vizag to unearth the racket,” Yamini said.

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    Srinivasa Rao is Senior Assistant Editor based out of Hyderabad covering developments in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana . He has over three decades of reporting experience.

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