BHUBANESWAR: A two-member team from Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) arrived in the State on Thursday to interrogate Afzal Beg who has emerged as a major ivory smuggler in the eastern region.
Currently in the remand of the Crime Branch of State Police, Beg was not only wanted by Odisha in connection with five cases of elephant poaching last year, the Jharkhand Forest and Environment Department too sought his custody for a series of jumbo killings. The Divisional Forest Officer of Chainbasa had sent a request to the Mayurbhanj Police in this regard.
The WCCB, sources said, is looking into the trail of Beg’s wildlife crimes across eastern States. A native of Dundu village in Mayurbhanj’s Rairangpur block, Beg was the pivot that ran poaching and smuggling rackets simultaneously. He was arrested from Odisha-Jharkhand border by the CB on December 29 last year.
“We believe that he played a major role in organising poaching units, collection of ivory and sale of tusks in the illegal market,” Additional Director General of Police, Crime Branch, BK Sharma said. Although he was remanded in CB custody for three days, the investigating agency will seek an extension of his remand for five days.
Beg’s clientele was mostly in Kolkata and other parts of West Bengal and that is what both CB and WCCB are looking to crack. The mastermind used to fund poachers, provide logistic support and pick up ivory at the rate of Rs 15,000 per kg. “The network of his buyers holds the key to break the syndicate of which he was the central point,” a senior Forest Department official said.
When Jospeh Lugun, a poaching kingpin was arrested last year for the Sambalpur poachings, all his calls were traced to Beg.
He had confessed to selling the tusks to this seasoned offender whose family was into hide business.
It is under the garb of hide business that he had started dealing in pangolin skins and graduated to elephant poaching. He has also an office in Tata Nagar.
“We have reasons to believe that he also procured a plant-based poison from Arunachal Pradesh and other parts of North East for use in elephant killing. The root-based poison was supplied to the poachers in Sambalpur for swift hunting operations,” said Santosh Joshi, Divisional Forest Officer of Sambalpur who had made two bids to nab Beg in the past.
Sources said Beg formed a patron-client relationship with the poachers units which carried out the hunting operations on his behalf. He would finance the transport, weapons and sometimes helped the local poachers in times of financial crisis, thereby binding them in a social contract of sorts.
While most poachers benefited only during poaching periods and remained poor for rest of the year, Beg made fortune by tapping the
huge illegal wildlife trade territory. He was also arrested in Deogarh during 2009-10 and spent about seven months in jail.
The CB is planning to prepare a dossier on Beg for its circulation among police and forest officials.