A human trafficking ring headed by a “citizen of Indian origin” was exposed by authorities in the Ecuadorian port city of Guayaquil who said the gang sought to smuggle people from India and Sri Lanka into the U.S.

Local reports on Thursday identified Navtej Kumar alias “Lucky” as the alleged head of a gang of six, including several Ecuadorians. “Operation India” was the codename of the police investigation that led to their arrest.

Indicating the gang’s connivance with Airport Immigration Services officials, the police in Guayaquil announced that in addition to three Indian nationals, two members of Ecuador’s immigration police were arrested.

Guayaquil Police Chief General Patricio Pazmino was quoted saying, “They brought in nationals from India and Sri Lanka, and arranged refuge for them in various hotels,” and Deputy Interior Minister Xavier Cordoba added that the smugglers had charged $5,000 per person.

The gang was said to have contacted airport immigration officials who were apparently “offered large sums of money in exchange for allowing the entry and exit of foreigners”. Police had suspected that the migrants came into the country with false or forged documents.

The police report noted that after entering Ecuador illegally, the gang sent the migrants to several locations in Central America “through other mafias” and then on to the U.S. Authorities also noted that the smuggling ring was smashed after a two-month investigation.

Action by Guayaquil police led to the seizure of a car, six stubs of the Andean Migration Card, laptops, mobile phones and $94,000 and an unspecified amount in rupees in cash. The police statement noted that the detainees and all evidence collected had been placed in charge of the appropriate judicial authorities.

Incidents of South Asians being smuggled into the U.S. via Latin American nations are not new. In 2011, Mexican authorities in Chiapas discovered “two tractor-trailers carrying a total of 500 Central Americans, Indians and Chinese who had just crossed the Guatemalan border”.

In the same year, Mexican immigration investigators disrupted a smuggling ring “after arresting three frightened Indians at the Tapachula airport... The Indians carried seemingly legitimate visas for Mexico but admitted their intent to sneak into the U.S”.

More In: World | International | News