Nigerians top in drug trafficking

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    Nigerians top in drug trafficking

    CHENNAI: Every third foreign national arrested for drug-related offences in the country last year was from Africa and every fourth from Nigeria alone. Neighbouring Nepal (48 arrests), which did not lag far behind either, along with Nigeria, accounted for almost 50% of the total 199 arrests of foreigners effected for drug offences. Mynamarese form the third biggest chunk on the list with 19 arrests.

    Foreigners are, however, hugely outnumbered by locals in the trade. For every foreigner arrested, 99 Indians were also picked up, according to the 2008 annual report of the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) released recently.

    African drug syndicates pose a major challenge to drug enforcement agencies in India, primarily because of their trans-national links. Located within reach of the South American cocaine belt, West African nationals, especially Nigerians, play a decisive role in the drug's trafficking. Often, cartels prey on the African diaspora. "Many, who come to India as students or businessmen, unwittingly bump into drug smugglers when people of the same nationality meet. Lured by the prospect of quick money, some of them fall into the trap. We have come across many first-time offenders among Africans," said south zone director of NCB, S Davidson Devasirvatham.

    Apart from 50 Nigerians arrested last year, other African nationals who figured on the Indian drug radar are Tanzanians (5), Zambians and South Africans (3 each), Kenyans and citizens of Ivory Coast (two each) and one each from Cameroon, Uganda, Congo and Liberia. Barring Zambia, India does not have a bilateral agreement or memorandum of understanding on sharing information on drug-related crimes with any of these African nations.

    While Africans take heroin out of the country, they bring cocaine back into India to exploit its potential as a recreation drug in metros like Delhi and Mumbai and some tourist destinations, says NCB director general OPS Malik in the report. A total of 50 seizures adding up to 12 kg of cocaine which has a street price of Rs 3,000 per 0.5 gram was made across Indian cities last year.

    The most preferred modus-operandi is to send the contraband through "post or courier parcels" and "human mules," mainly women from South East Asian countries. A large number of locals are also used. This modus operandi gives the advantage of anonymity to the actual kingpins and makes it difficult for investigating agencies to trace the masterminds of the trade. It also ensures that seizures do not leave a financial dent on the traffickers' operating costs.

    A senior police official said, "We have information that several Nigerians who were involved in SMS and e-mail lottery frauds had used the booty for the narcotics trade. This helps them operate virtually without any capital investment."

    Though the number of arrested foreigners went up from 181 to 199 between 2007 and 2008, there is no perceivable longterm trend as regards their involvement in the overall trade of narcotics in the country. In 2006, 232 foreigners were arrested as the trade saw a sudden spurt in the involvement of foreign nationals in drug trafficking, but the number fell the next year, only to go up again in 2008.

    African nationals concentrate primarily on the traditional trafficking route of heroin from Pakistan to India through western borders. It is the spillover of Afghan heroin that gets routed to India and this trend has constantly been on the rise, says the NCB report. Afghan heroin accounted for more than half of the Indian seizures last year. It has a huge market in Asia, Europe and the US, primarily because it is cheaper than its Indian counterpart and is also available in abundance.

    While poppy (heroin is the gum of poppy seeds) was cultivated only over 1,560 acres in India last year, it covered a whopping 3.92 lakh acres, involving an estimated 2.4 million farmers in Afghanistan. The war-ravaged country accounted for 93 per cent of world's opium (also sourced from poppy) production of 9,000 tonnes in 2007. Last year, Afghanistan produced 7,700 tonnes of opiates - various derivatives of opium.

    According to the World Drug Report, 2008, "While demand (for opiates) has been relatively stable at the global level, the countries surrounding Afghanistan continue to experience increasing levels of use."

    Heroin seizures in India has been hovering in the region of one tonne per annum in recent times. In 2006, authorities seized 1,182 kg of heroin. In subsequent years, 1,186 kg and 1,063 kg were seized. Last year, Punjab, because of its porous borders with Pakistan, recorded the maximum heroin seizure of 492 kg, followed by Delhi (148), Uttar Pradesh (134), Jammu and Kashmir (75), Maharashtra (51) and Rajasthan (51).

    However, the single biggest seizure of heroin (60 kg) was effected by the BSF and NCB in J&K, a matter which is worrying for Indian security agencies because it raises suspicion about a new narco-terrorist link between India and Pakistan.

    Jayaraj Sivan, TNN 7 December 2009, 05:56am IST

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