In the biggest seizure of cocaine this year at the city airport, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) officials have arrested Republic of Guinea national at Mumbai airport while he was smuggling in cocaine worth around ₹18 crore in a false cavity in a trolley bag.(HT PHOTO)
In the biggest seizure of cocaine this year at the city airport, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) officials have arrested Republic of Guinea national at Mumbai airport while he was smuggling in cocaine worth around ₹18 crore in a false cavity in a trolley bag.(HT PHOTO)

Mumbai: Covid-19 forced drug cartels to change modus operandi, say anti-narcotic agencies

The pandemic and the subsequent lockdown in many countries across the globe have directly impacted the drug cartels in their international movement as air traffic between many countries have still not resumed.
By Vijay Kumar Yadav, Mumbai
UPDATED ON NOV 30, 2020 12:21 AM IST

The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted drug trafficking and forced international drug cartels to change their modus operandi to send drugs in India, said officials in central and regional anti-narcotics agencies.

The pandemic and the subsequent lockdown in many countries across the globe have directly impacted the drug cartels in their international movement as air traffic between many countries have still not resumed.

“The logistics of drug cartels and its syndicates have changed considerably since the pandemic. In the pre-Covid era, the Colombian or other drug cartels were using carriers from South American countries such as Bolivia, Venezuela, Brazil and Colombia. They were using people from these countries as cocaine is basically produced in this belt of South America,” said a senior official from the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) requesting anonymity. Earlier they would send mules from these countries to Sao Paulo in Brazil and then to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, from there the drugs used to be pushed into Mumbai, added the official.

Now, as there are lesser flights due to pandemic, the cartels are using people from countries like as Guinea, Malawi and Ghana and are sending them to Addis Ababa and then to Mumbai.

“One of the prime reasons is that the cartels are finding it tough to arrange visas and other logistics for carriers from South American countries, and have switched their operations to West Africa,” added the official.

The official further said that earlier the rackets were sending mules who would conceal the drugs stuffed in capsules in their body. Last year dozens of foreigners, mostly women, were arrested by officials of the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) and Air Intelligence Unit (AIU) at the Mumbai airport while smuggling drugs inside their body. Now the trend has been to meticulously conceal drugs in cavities made in the baggage or trolleys.

“The cartels have also increased the quantity for smuggling drugs because their other routes are closed. The recent arrests of a Malawian national and Republic of Guinea national and subsequent seizure of cocaine worth 24 crore from them is the biggest seizure of cocaine being smuggled in India through air route this year. There are less flights operating, so they are smuggling in huge quantity to recover the losses they faced during lockdown,” the senior DRI official said.

Cargo-related drugs trafficking have also been impacted as cargo movement has slowed down because of Covid-19, he added.

KPS Malhotra, deputy director (operations), NCB, said the pandemic has drastically changed the functioning of drug cartels. “As there were restrictions on air passengers, cartels have increased their operations through couriers and maritime routes. As a result of this, there was surge in successful crackdown by anti-narcotics agencies involving drug trafficking through couriers. For bigger quantity, they smuggle through the sea and for smaller quantity they use couriers,” Malhotra said.

“The business for drug traffickers has become very lucrative now, as after months of lockdown, there is high demand of drugs in the market. And the cartels are desperately looking for opportunities as their stocks are lying as it is,” Malhotra said.

A DRI official said another modus operandi which drug cartels have recently started is to identify poor people who have medical conditions and wish to travel abroad for treatment. “Under the guise of medical tourism, cartels have started using people who face medical conditions to smuggle drugs,” said another DRI official. “It becomes easy for racket members to use people looking for medical tourism as their carriers, as chances of them getting caught or coming under scanner is less considering their genuine medical history,” added the official.

NCB officials also said that the pandemic has thrown challenges for anti-narcotics agencies when it comes to deal with domestic drug cartels. “There has been spike in cases of seizure cannabis and opium sourced from the states like Orissa and Andhra Pradesh. Due to lockdown, inward drug trafficking has increased by many folds. Huge quantities, such as 10,000 kilograms of cannabis, are being seized every month,” Malhotra said.

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