While they are being smuggled out through India and Pakistan, payments are being made through money transfer agencies, says Devesh K. Pandey

Though the recent seizure of an unaccounted $67,000 from a South African national by the Customs at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport did not make big news, it is being considered a prize catch by the authorities. They have a strong suspicion that the accused was one of the key players in the international drug trafficking arena.

The South African was intercepted by the Customs sleuths when he was about to board a Thai Airways flight to Hong Kong via Bangkok. On closer examination they discovered a false cavity in his suitcase in which the currency notes had been concealed. Though the accused claimed that an unknown person had handed over the money to him, the agency suspects that he is part of a drug trafficking racket as the nature of concealment was similar to the one usually employed to traffic drugs.

It is suspected that the accused had been to India several times using different passports. While the agency is investigating further to trace the origin of the seized money, last June it had arrested two Thai women allegedly carrying a heroin consignment at the airport. In follow-up action, one more Thai woman and five West African nationals were arrested and cocaine was also seized, the agency said.

Investigations into that case led to astonishing revelations about the fast-changing scenario in the drug trafficking world, both in terms of drug peddling and monetary transactions.

The Customs officials found that while Afghan heroin was being smuggled out through Pakistan and India to various Western countries via Africa, cocaine was finding its way into India. In fact, the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime has in its 2007 report observed that there was an increase in drug trafficking through Africa. The report also mentions some increase in cocaine consumption in India. According to drug enforcement agencies, Asia is attracting international drug syndicates involving mainly African nationals dealing in cocaine. “This is because they have a well organised network both at the places of origin and destination of drug consignments,” said an official.

Investigations into the monetary transactions made in the case involving eight foreign nationals revealed that most of the payments were made through a prominent money transfer agency. And it was allegedly coming from an East Asian country. It came to light that one of the accused was using several forged identification documents to make as many transactions as possible.

“Western countries have a highly developed money-trailing mechanism and so big-time drug traffickers tend to set up fake firms to siphon off the money. In countries like India and Pakistan they prefer to carry cash with them or use couriers for the job,” said an official, adding that a more coordinated effort was required on the part of the agencies concerned to clog the channel through which drug-related money is finding its way out.