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Businessman held on charges of drug-smuggling

By Our Staff Reporter

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, MARCH 6. The Regional Intelligence Unit (RIU) of the Narcotic Control Bureau (NCB) today arrested a 38-year-old businessman suspected of financing a Tamil Nadu-based drug mafia group involved in smuggling heroin to the Maldives through the international airport here.

Official sources identified the accused as Muhammad Abdul Khader Asif, a native of Manacaud in the city. He was arrested by NCB sleuths from a posh apartment complex at Nanthancode this morning. Asif was produced before the Judicial First Class Magistrate, Nixon. M. Joseph, on charges of violating the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS) and remanded to 14 days in judicial custody.

The NCB is learnt to be probing Asif's bank accounts and business connections in the city. Those currently under the NCB scrutiny include a lawyer, a film producer and the chief executive officer of a management training institution in the city. Official sources said Asif's activities had been under NCB scrutiny for the past few months.

On February 23, the NCB had intercepted one Mustafa Abdullah of Tiruchi district in Tamil Nadu as he was about to board an Indian Airlines flight (IC 963) to the Maldives from the international airport here. Nearly 160 gm of heroin valued at Rs. 16 lakhs was found concealed in his stomach in insulated capsule form. The NCB said that it was the arrest of Mustafa that led the investigators to Asif.

Officials said that Asif , who is married to a Maldivian national, was a frequent traveller to Colombo in Sri Lanka and the Maldives. He was recently engaged in setting up a business that involved the import of scrap metal from Colombo to Mumbai port. "The foreign travel and financial transactions of the accused are being probed by the NCB," an official said.

In 2003, the NCB here had seized more than 21 kg of heroin while it was being smuggled to the Maldives, Saudi Arabia and Sri Lanka. As many as 12 persons, including one Sri Lankan national, four Tamil Nadu residents and seven Keralites, were arrested in connection with the seizures last year.

The majority of the seizures were from carriers bound for the Maldives. In all the seizures, the drug was found concealed in capsule form in the stomach of the carrier.

Each capsule would contain five gm of heroin. The capsule is referred to as `bullet' in drug trade parlance. A `bullet' of heroin, which costs Rs. 1,500 in Tamil Nadu fetches Rs 7,000 when retailed in the Maldives, officials said.

According to the NCB sources, the high profit margin and quick returns are a motive for many to invest in the heroin smuggling operation to the Maldives. "An investment of Rs. 1 lakh fetches a return of Rs. 4 lakhs in a matter of 48 hours," an official pointed out.

The returns are usually in dollars brought concealed in hand baggage from the Maldives by air passengers. Electronic money transfer mechanisms and hawala routes are also used by drug smugglers for their financial transactions, the sources said.

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