TRIPS TO India, Africa, Indonesia, the Maldives and Sri Lanka that lasted nearly 20 days each and Rs 5 lakh per visit. Pakistan national Zubair Derakshshandeh, 29, supplied drugs to several countries as a member of the infamous Haji Salim drug cartel for five years. On May 13, it was on one such trip to India that he was arrested in a joint operation by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) and the Indian Navy in the international waters, off the coast of Kochi.
Zubair was caught with 132 bags containing suspected contraband. Weighing 2,525 kg, the haul contained “high-purity methamphetamine” worth around Rs 25,000 crore. An NCB official remarked that it was the most “superior quality” of methamphetamine they had ever come across in the illegal drug market.
An official said, “Zubair, a native of Pakistan’s Balochistan province, worked for a businessman who has several motherships and boats. The businessman is a close aide of Salim and they asked Zubair to deliver this consignment in India. After reaching India, he was told that some people would come in boats and share a code with him. He was asked to hand over the consignment to them after that. They would then supply the drugs in India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives.”
Salim, the official said, is from Pakistan’s Pasni, and, as per intelligence inputs, his last known location was Karachi.
“He is one of the biggest drug traffickers of the region. He would procure illicit drugs from Afghanistan and process them in his labs, operating in a clandestine manner in Balochistan region. The processed drugs — heroin and methamphetamine — were trafficked from these labs to different parts of the globe through the maritime routes in large quantities. Each shipment usually weighed around 1,500-2,500 kg. The drugs processed in Salim’s labs are usually branded with marks such as ‘555’, ‘999’, ‘Flying Horse’ and ‘Scorpion’,” an official added.
Recalling the May 13 operation, an NCB official said the bureau had received a tip-off regarding the mothership. A trap laid by officers of the NCB and the Navy led them to a sinking vessel in international waters and Zubair.
An official said, “After developing the tip-off further, we caught the mothership in international waters, off the coast of Kochi. It was damaged and sinking, but we managed to seize the drugs. We also recovered a GPS tracker. The drugs were sourced from Jiwani, a port town in Pakistan’s Balochistan province, which is close to the Iran border.”
Investigations so far have revealed that the mothership started from the Iran border and was waiting for small boats to receive the consignment after it reached close to Kochi. Sources said motherships only sail in international waters.
The official added, “During some previous seizures of drug consignments by the cartel, we came across arms and ammunition being trafficked alongside. We seized an AK-47 along with 1,000 live rounds and a 300-kg heroin consignment.”
Although the NCB has busted drug trafficking attempts by the Haji Salim cartel earlier, this is the first time that an Indian agency has intercepted a mothership. This seizure was part of ‘Operation Samudragupt’. Launched by the NCB in January 2022, the operation targets maritime trafficking of drugs originating from Afghanistan. This is the third major seizure by the NCB related to maritime trafficking through the southern route in the past 1.5 years.
NCB officials said the seizure of the large quantity of methamphetamine shows its growing demand in the drug market. “This substance is fast replacing ganja. Methamphetamine is cheaper than cocaine, so it is also known as poor man’s cocaine. There have been several instances of methamphetamine seizure in south India,’’ sources said.
First published on: 26-05-2023 at 07:14 IST