Gujarat Port Drug Haul: Arrested Couple Likely Only A Front, Say Sources

The Adani Group, which runs the Mundra port, has said operators are not allowed to police or examine containers and cargo anywhere in the world.

Two more such consignments are expected from Afghanistan, sources in probe agencies said.

New Delhi/Hyderabad:

The Andhra Pradesh duo arrested in connection with the massive haul of narcotic drugs at Gujarat's Adani Group-run Mundra port is likely to have been unaware of the contents of the container, sources in investigative agencies have said, referring to the husband and wife as "name lenders". The conglomerate has, meanwhile, said policing and examining containers was not its responsibility.

The Directorate of Revenue Intelligence has, since the seizure of the containers on September 13, arrested eight persons and recovered around 37 kilograms of contraband -- or substance suspected to be contraband -- during raids in Delhi and neighbouring Noida in Uttar Pradesh.

"Immediate follow-up operations were carried out in New Delhi, Noida (Uttar Pradesh), Chennai, Coimbatore, Ahmedabad, Mandvi, Gandhidham, and Vijaywada. This led to recovery of 16.1 kilograms of heroin from a godown in Delhi, 10.2 kilograms of powder suspected to be cocaine and 11 kilograms of substance suspected to be heroin from a residential place in Noida," a Press Information Bureau release said today.

"A total of eight persons, including four Afghan nationals, one Uzbek National, and three Indian nationals have been arrested in the case so far. The arrested Indian nationals include the holder of the import export code (IEC), which was used to import the consignment. He was arrested from Chennai. Investigations are in progress."

Sudhakar Machavarapu and Vaishali Govindaraju, the Chennai-based couple arrested earlier this week appear to have been paid Rs 30,000 per container that they imported. Sources said they also got Rs 3 lakh in hawala to help in custom clearance and transport of the consignment.

The Enforcement Directorate has initiated a money-laundering probe into the September 13 seizure of around 3,000 kilograms of heroin valued at around Rs 20,000 crore.

The registered address of Aashi Trading Company, named in the consignment bill, was that of Vaishali Govindaraju's mother Taraka Govindaraju. There seems to have been no activity at the residence in connection with the illegal drugs haul.

The drug consignment seized last week was part of a shipment labelled 'talc stone', which apparently originated in Afghanistan and arrived in India via Iran's Bandar Abbas port, according to official sources.

They were packed into the bottom of bags, with layers of talc placed above to avoid suspicion. The consignment's place of origin is Afghanistan's Nimruz province where no talc is produced. The country, however, is the world's biggest heroin producer, accounting for over 80 per cent of the global output.

Vaishali had completed GST registration in August 2020 and the couple used its import-export licence for the consignment. A similar consignment, which had arrived for them in June, was arranged to be sent directly to Delhi -- the two were paid Rs 3 lakh in cash for it, sources said.

This was towards the use of their importer-exporter code, coordinating with liners, customs brokers, and transport of the consignment to Delhi.

They had taken orders from people in Afghanistan and Iran. Probe agencies suspect a possible Taliban-Afghanistan-Pakistan link to the whole episode.

Two more such consignments were expected shortly.

Investigators say this common practice of using fronts to divert consignments towards non-sensitive routes is called layering.

"The importers may not have had any knowledge of the real consignment or its value," sources with investigative agencies said.

The Adani Group, meanwhile, has been put under an intense social media glare following the drug seizure, especially by the political rivals of the BJP, which is in power in Gujarat as well as the Centre.

The Congress party, seeking a court-monitored probe into the seizure, had raised questions over the seizure from the Prime Minister's home state, asking why key posts at the Narcotics Control Bureau were lying vacant.

The company issued a statement saying port operators are not allowed to police or examine containers and cargo anywhere in the world.

"No port operator across the country can examine a container. Their role is limited to running the port…We have no policing authority over the containers or the millions of tonnes of cargo that pass through the terminals in Mundra or any of our ports," read a statement from the Adani Group's spokesperson.

"We sincerely hope that this statement will put to rest the motivated, malicious and false propaganda being run on social media against the Adani Group."