KOCHI: Kochi seems to be becoming a transit hub for international drug cartels, assesses the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) that seized 2.9kg of heroin from a Zimbabwean national after interrogating her. According to officials, smuggling of heroin from Africa is a new route adopted by cartels.The Zimbabwean woman, identified as Chigwaza Sharon, was intercepted by the NCB team on arrival at Kochi airport on Saturday. The officials are checking whether similar consignments of heroin had transited through Kochi before through other carriers.
“The drug ring members change their transit routes frequently. When the crackdown in other major international airports in the country intensifies, they use smaller international airports like Kochi for the transit. For them, the main challenge is to exit the airports with the drugs in India. Thereafter, they take flights to domestic airports where checking will not be as intense as in international airports. In some cases, after landing in a place like Kochi, the gang members take interstate buses and trains for transit. The drugs are not meant for supplying in Kerala, but destined for Bengaluru, Goa, New Delhi and Mumbai where the main receivers are based,” a Customs official said.
As per the data with the prison department, 52 foreign prisoners have been lodged in various jails in Kerala now. Of them, four are convicted and 48 others are on trial. Two of the four convicted persons were involved in NDPS cases. Of the 48 undertrial prisoners, 12 were involved in NDPS cases. In the 2017-2018 period, NCB had registered five cases in Kochi in which people mainly from South American countries — Venezuela, Paraguay and El Salvador — were arrested in separate cocaine seizure incidents. A Paraguay citizen, Alexis R Fernandez, was sentenced recently to 12 years of jail for smuggling cocaine. Recently, two incidents of heroin recovery from Sri Lankan fishing boats were reported off the Kerala coast.
According to the NCB, the heroin extracted from illegal poppy cultivation in Afghanistan was smuggled into India via Pakistan earlier through the porous borders in Northwest India and Jammu and Kashmir. The sea routes used were also busted. “Though African nationals had been booked in drug smuggling cases earlier, they were mostly involved in bringing cocaine and synthetic drugs. The seizure of opium-derived heroin brought via Africa is a new trend,” a source said.
Meanwhile, the NCB probing the seizure of heroin from the Zimbabwean national has engaged other state units to track down the end receiver of the contraband.“The arrested woman was travelling from South Africa to New Delhi via Kochi and Bengaluru. So, the consignment was to be received by her aides in these stations. The bag was handed over to her by a Nigerian national in South Africa,” the source said.