Officers of the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) seized 27.5 kg of ephedrine powder allegedly meant for export and detained four Malaysian nationals and one Indian at the Anna International Airport here early on Sunday night.

Following a tip-off, a special team intercepted the suspects as they were about to board an aircraft to Kuala Lumpur. Their baggage contained the contraband packed in small quantities and concealed in clothes, sources in the agency said.

“We had specific intelligence input that a huge consignment of ephedrine would be taken to Malaysia. It is used as a party drug and also to make Amphetamine stimulants in South-East Asian countries. We nabbed them soon after they took the boarding pass and were proceeding towards the aircraft,” NCB's South Zonal Director S. Davidson Devasirvatham told The Hindu on Monday.

The source of the drug and supply network is under investigation.

Increase in smuggling

While smuggling of heroin to Sri Lanka had come down owing to tightened security measures along the coast and adulteration of the contraband, there was an increase in the shipping of ketamine and ephedrine drugs to South-East Asia, he said.

“The investment is more in procuring and transporting heroin…the punishment if caught is also severe. There is a spurt in the smuggling of ketamine and ephedrine as the profit is almost the same considering the huge quantity. There is a sustained demand for these drugs in Malaysia and its adjoining countries,” Mr. Davidson said.

NCB officials are investigating how the suspects managed to pass the security check.

“The ephedrine powder was stuffed in small packets each weighing 500 grams. They were concealed in ‘Salwar Kameez' dress sets and kept in travel bags,” an investigator said. The accused were identified as Mahandran (40), Muruganandam (52), Sathyaseelan (34), Subramaniam (41), of Malaysia and Gunasekaran(40) of Thanjavur district.

Ephedrine is a drug listed under the ‘Regulation of Controlled Substances Order' 1993. The consignment seized on Sunday was delivered to the accused in Chennai. “We suspect that it came from Hyderabad or Mumbai,” Mr. Davidson said.