An international drug trafficking syndicate has been unearthed with the arrest of 16 alleged members and seizure of over 34 kg of heroin and other narcotic substances during an operation spearheaded by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB). The group, having links in countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan, had set up heroin processing laboratories in Punjab.
Four of the arrestees are also allegedly connected to the seizure of about 300 kg of drugs, mostly heroin, from Shaheen Bagh (Delhi) and Muzaffarnagar (Uttar Pradesh) in April 2022. The key accused persons ran nightclubs and restaurants and had other front businesses, including liquor vends, rice mill and ghee trade.
The breakthrough came after the NCB’s Chandigarh unit seized 20.33 kg of heroin from the possession of one Sandeep Singh in November last year. Subsequent searches led to the detection of two clandestine heroin processing units run by Afghan nationals in Punjab’s Ludhiana, according to NCB (Northern Range) Deputy Director-General Gyaneshwar Singh.
The NCB probe revealed that accused Akshay Kumar Chhabra was the kingpin of the racket. He allegedly imported raw heroin and morphine from Afghanistan via cargo route and got the stuff prepared in Ludhiana. Amandeep Chania facilitated smuggling of crude heroin -- concealed in tomato paste tins -- through Mundra Port in Gujrat, as alleged.
Hitesh Verma was the proprietor of Verma International, in whose name morphine/crude heroin — falsely declared as consignments of juice bottles and tomato paste — was allegedly being brought in from overseas. Accused Bhuvnesh Kapoor had also created a web of firms for the same purpose.
Mr. Singh on Monday said Qari Hamidullah Yusufi and his associate Mohammed Hakim Salimi, who are from Afghanistan, processed heroin for the local groups in Punjab, Delhi and Western Uttar Pradesh.
It is alleged that Harsukhvir Singh handled the drug money and Subhash Goyal converted the proceeds of the crime into white using bogus business transactions and fake firms. Another arrested accused, Zaidy Haider Raji, had received 120 kg of raw heroin and chemical from the “mastermind”. His associate, Imran, has also been arrested. The agency found that accused Sandeep had also been accused of double murder in Delhi.
As part of the investigation, the NCB has so far frozen over 60 bank accounts operated by the alleged gang members and identified 30 properties for further legal action. Apart from heroin, 23.65 kg of suspected narcotics powder, 5.47 kg of morphine, some precursor acid and opium have been seized along with several live cartridges.
“This operation was fuelled by inter-agency cooperation and various central agencies, including various zones of NCB...Counter Intelligence of the Punjab Police played a crucial role,” said Mr. Singh on Monday. The National Integrated Database on Arrested Narco Offenders and the Inter-operable Criminal Justice System data was used extensively to trace the syndicate members.
A special team under NCB Chandigarh’s Zonal Director Amanjit Singh was constituted to pursue various leads. Specialised financial and technical investigation teams were also formed.