Mundra drug mastermind, was let off by cops in another case, fled after bust

Identified only as Nabibullah, this Afghan national fled the country five days after the Directorate of Revenue and Intelligence (DRI) seized the shipment between September 17 and 19 last year.
A file photo of the Mundra port in Gujarat where the containers were seized. (Reuters file photo)
A file photo of the Mundra port in Gujarat where the containers were seized. (Reuters file photo)
Updated on Jan 06, 2022 02:00 AM IST
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ByNeeraj Chauhan

The ongoing investigation into the seizure of 3,000kg of heroin worth 21,000 crore at Mundra Port in September -- the largest ever by Indian agencies -- has revealed that an Afghan national, a key player in the narco smuggling network who supervised deliveries in India, was detained by Punjab Police in another drugs case but let off, people familiar with the development said.

Identified only as Nabibullah, this Afghan national fled the country five days after the Directorate of Revenue and Intelligence (DRI) seized the shipment between September 17 and 19 last year.

HT was first to report the seizure on September 20.

Punjab Police detained Nabibullah in another drug-related case along with four other smugglers in June 2021, much before DRI unearthed the 3,000kg consignment. He was interrogated at length and then allowed to go as, apparently, there was nothing against him at that point, according to a senior official in a central investigation agency directly involved in the Mundra drugs haul investigation. “At the time, Punjab Police didn’t know how big a player he was so he was released after questioning,” this person added, asking not to be identified

When contacted, Punjab Police’s Special Task Force (STF) head, additional director general (ADG) Harpreet Singh Sidhu said he was not aware of the case and would have to check the details. “If the police has sufficient facts about any criminal let alone a drug trafficker, they would take action,” and not allow them to get away, he added.

Nabibullah, according to the officer from the central agency cited above, supervised the delivery of a similar consignment at Mundra Port on June 6 last year, which was also imported in the name of same firm used in the September consignment -- Aashi Trading Company run by Chennai-based couple Machavaram Sudhakar and Govindaraju Durga Purna Vaishali. A Kandahar-based firm, Hasan Husain Ltd , was used in both June and September to smuggle in the heroin, labelled as semi-processed talc stones.

“The June consignment, suspected to be around 300kg , was sent to Mundra port for the first time as a ‘tester’, to see the security arrangements there. Once the June consignment was cleared, Nabibullah got confident and a larger consignment of 3,000kg heroin was sent in September. Prior to Mundra port, he was using border smugglers, couriers and other modes to get drugs into India from Afghanistan,” said a second officer familiar with the investigation, requesting anonymity.

Investigators have found that Nabibullah, who is in his early 30s, was living in India for past five years, and had rented several godowns in and around Delhi, where he used to store the drugs smuggled from Afghanistan.

“As the news about the seizure of 3,000kg consignment by DRI broke, he left the country within four-five days. We believe he fled to Afghanistan via Pakistan but we don’t have his photograph or other details including the route or his address there,” added the second officer.

Since Taliban’s takeover of the Afghanistan on August 15 last year, Indian agencies have been worried that huge quantities of Afghan heroin will be pushed into India by drug traffickers backed by Pakistan. Narcotics smuggling and trade has for long been used as a vehicle of funding by terror networks operating in Pakistan and targeting India. It isn’t known at this point in time whether Nabibullah has any connections with such networks.

The National Investigation Agency is currently investigating the case. Eight persons, including four Afghan nationals based in the National Capital Region, two Uzbek women, and the Chennai couple have been arrested in the case so far.

Asked whether any warrant or notice has been issued against Nabibullah, NIA said that this “information cannot be shared at this point”.

Kandahar , Helmand, Badghis, Uruzgan, and Faryab are areas where major opium poppy cultivation takes place in Afghanistan.

UN data suggests that potential opium production in Afghanistan in 2020 was estimated at 6,300 tonnes and the average opium yield was 28 kilograms per hectare. The country produces over 85% of the world’s opium.

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Monday, May 16, 2022