The Thane Police on Wednesday claimed that the ephedrine seized over the past couple of weeks, valued at over Rs 2,000 crore, appeared to be connected with an international cartel.
They said investigations revealed links between Avon LifeSciences, the company which manufactured the drug, and Kenya-based drug smuggler Vicky Goswami.
While the Thane police arrested three more people in the case, the scope of the investigation widened further with the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) joining in the probe on Wednesday. A three-member team from the DEA flew down from Delhi to meet the Thane police. The Gujarat Anti-Terrorism Squad is also pursuing the case.
Thane Police Commissioner, Param Bir Singh, said: “The DEA appreciated our work and said this was a big blow to the international drug trade.”
The police had seized 18,000 kgs of ephedrine fromthe Avon Lifesciences plant in Solapur on April 16. The raid resulted in five arrests, including that of the production manager of the plant, Rajendra Dimri. The raid came after a Nigerian national, who was allegedly smuggling ephedrine in Kalyan, was arrested on April 10.
It was learnt that several of the accused had made trips to Africa. “The DEA shared information that Avon Lifesciences had links with Vicky Goswami and some of the accused met with him in Kenya. Our investigations indicate that there were plans to set up a meth factory in Mombasa, and an intent to transport the drugs to the US and other countries,” said Mr Singh.
A known international drug trafficker, Goswami is married to former Bollywood actor Mamta Kulkarni. The two were arrested in November 2014, in Kenya following a probe by the US DEA and the Mombasa police. The arrest took place shortly after he served a 15-year sentence in the UAE for drug trafficking.
Sources say that the DEA investigations have revealed that Goswami was able to procure multi-tonne shipments of ephedrine from Avon Lifesciences due to his close relationship with the company’s owner.
The DEA investigations revealed that Avon Lifesciences had links to an international drug cartel since 2013. “Our investigations gave us information only up until 2015. But now we can say that this racket has been on since 2013, if not earlier,” said Mr Singh.
The Thane police, meanwhile, arrested three people including Punit Shringi, the in-charge director of the Solapur factory, Hardeep Singh Gill alias Sardar, a transporter, and Manoj Jain, a full-time director with Avon Lifesciences, taking the total number of arrests in the case to eight.
Jain was among the first to be arrested from Avon Lifesciences’ top management. Mr Singh said, “We suspect Manoj Jain, a resident of Mumbai, could be the kingpin of the racket. However, we feel this is only the tip of the iceberg”
The police also seized over 180 kg of the drug from Gill, and 10 kg from the car Shringi had been using. “The car was hidden in Dharavi and we found 10 packets of ephedrine,” said Singh. This takes the total tally of the seizure to 20.5 tonnes of ephedrine valued at over Rs 2,000 crore.
Avon Lifesciences was established in 2001 as Avon Organics. Arch Pharma Labs picked up a 45.14 per cent stake in the company in 2009.
Avon’s two directors, Ajit Kamath and Rajendra Kaimal, are also under investigation. “Ajit Kamath’s name has come up on several occasions in the DEA’s investigation,” SIngh said. “Whether he is involved or not only further investigation can reveal.”
Sources said that DEA investigations revealed that Kamath was associated with Goswami’s network, and thet he had made several trips to Kenya along with Jain.