The Excise Department, on Friday, arrested the alleged kingpin of one of the largest spirit smuggling networks in South Kerala.

It identified the accused as Chaakummoody Shibu, a 41-year-old Karnataka-based businessman with considerable investments in several call centres in Bangalore and a five-star hotel under construction at Neyyattinkara.

Excise enforcers said Shibu purchased huge consignments of spirit from distilleries in the sugarcane growing regions of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra and smuggled it into Kerala mainly through the Amaravila check-post bordering Tamil Nadu.

They said he used a fleet of stolen multi-axle trucks, transhipment containers and petroleum and water tankers with fabricated ownership records for smuggling spirit. The spirit contained in plastic cans was hidden in secret cavities inside the specially altered vehicles. A well-oiled network of corrupt government officials, expert drivers and criminal gangs aided Shibu's operations.

Excise officials said Shibu's men offloaded the spirit consignments inside a few abandoned granite quarries he owned at Malayady in Tamil Nadu. The sparsely populated locality borders Kaliyakavila in Kerala. The illicit spirit was then smuggled into Kerala in small quantities.

Enforcers said Shibu purchased the spirit from outside State distilleries for less than Rs.100. He retailed it in Kerala through certain agents for Rs.250. Officials said his profit ran into several lakhs of rupees a day. Shibu had invested the proceeds in flats in Bangalore and land at Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu. He also had huge deposits in certain private banks and chit funds.

Excise officials said most of the smuggled spirit was sold laced with artificial toddy through licensed outlets in Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Pathanamthitta and Alappuzha districts. Some portion of the contraband spirit was used for making fake Indian-Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) products.

The investigation into an illegal IMFL blending unit at Kazhakuttam had resulted in Shibu's arrest.

A special team, led by Assistant Commissioner N.S. Salim Kumar and Inspector T. Anikumar, arrested the suspect from one his safe houses in Neyyattinkara.

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