Indian Ketamine Smuggling, 2010-present

This entry is part 8 of 7 in the series The Ketamine Konnection

Indian Ketamine Smuggling - 2010 to the present

Ketamine Smuggling in India and Beyond

Due to the high demand in Asia and Europe, along with its hitherto loosely enforced guidelines for supply, India has for years been a major source of ketamine, both licit and otherwise. Law enforcement officials in India, and countries such as China, Malaysia, and the Philippines, believe that many smugglers of other drugs, for example, heroin, are moving over to ketamine due to the lower risk and higher payoff that ketamine smuggling can provide.

In previous years, smugglers of all nationalities have or have attempted to ship k in or disguised as; barrels, boxes, ‘dog powder’, face-packs, glucose sachets, herbal remedies, massage oils, medication gel caps, milk bags, non-prescription drugs, pouches of tobacco, red wine, 1 rice, rose water, 2 salt, soap, talcum powder, and tea bags, as well as a range of other forms. However, those ingenious smugglers – while not quite up to the standards of other international drug traders, such as the cocaine cartels – are always looking to improve their chances, with more sophisticated attempts being trialed all the time (for instance, the forming of a ketamine emulsion of similar consistency to hair gel, passing as such to all but the most trained eye). 3

This is especially apparent when considering the transport via the postal system(s), often within international borders, of very small amounts of contraband, increasingly engendered by the transactions occurring online via, the internet and ‘deep web’. Examples of this ‘stealth’ include amounts circa 12g (which easily fits into a standard ‘letter’-sized envelope unnoticed) or less being disguised as ‘Bath salts’, ‘Camera lens cleaner’, or similar.

2010-present

In January, 2010, Customs officials at the Sardar Vallabhbhai International Airport in Ahmedabad, arrested three people after the discovery of 50kg of ketamine, valued at Rs.50 lakh. The would be smugglers – men from Tamil Nadu – planned to board a Singapore Airlines flight, bound for Jakarta, and were travelling with the drug hidden in stainless steel kettles, “packed professionally to avoid detection”, which was found when the group tried to check in for their flight. 4

According to August, 2010, reports from The Hindu Online and Dinamalar (which I originally discovered as part of a bulk security email dump from global intelligence company Stratfor, released in 2012 as part of Wikileak’s ‘The Global Intelligence Files’); a 33 year old man was arrested by DRI officials at Chennai airport, resulting in the discovery of 600kg of ketamine (split between nine haulage company offices in Chennai and Mumbai). Inspection of the man’s baggage revealed receipts from the haulage firms, for transportation of ‘lactose, chemicals and medicines’, which the guilty party admitted was ketamine, intended to be collected from the depots before being split up into smaller quantities for smuggling to Kuala Lumpur. The man further informed the DRI officials that the ketamine “was manufactured in underground factories in Mumbai”. The haul’s value was reported as follows; “in the international market the seized drug would fetch Rs.60 crore while in the domestic market it was valued at Rs.2.10 crore”; “Worth Rs.600 Million”.

Bowing to political pressures both internal and external, on 10 February, 2011, the Indian Union’s finance ministry proclaimed ketamine and its derivatives to be restricted under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substance (NDPS) Act. 5 The government apparently hoped that this course of action would enable them to secure more severe penalties for those found in possession. Prior to the change, k busts were carried out by Customs officials (usually under the Customs Act, enabling offenders to accept relatively light bail conditions), but officials declared that the new measures would mean this would be much harder in future, due to the new, “more stringent NDPS Act”. Officials stated that the new restrictions  6 were due to the continued increase in usage of k as a party drug, and that they regularly seized large amounts of the drug (from both foreigners and nationals) due for distribution across the country (claiming that most of the supply was coming from South-East Asian countries). 7

In October, 2011, the DRI arrested 10 people in simultaneous raids carried out at various locations around Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Mumbai, and Punjab. The resulting seizure, “one of the biggest-ever hauls of psychotropic drugs and substances meant for sale in the US, Canada and other European countries”,  8 consisted of unknown amounts of ketamine and other drugs (labelled as Aloe Vera), both foreign and Indian currency, and a pistol. Total value was estimated at Rs 22 crore. It is believed that the cartel (including a U.S. national alleged to have been in the business for at least two years) used a network of couriers to deliver the k to the U.S.A. and Canada, via air cargo.  9 The ketamine itself was procured from a pharmaceutical factory, Ten Star Industries, in Himachal Pradesh.

In February, 2012, the DRI detained two Indian women en route to Malaysia. The unlucky duo, both residing in Chennai, was discovered to be carrying 6kg of ketamine in their cabin bags. 10

In April, 2012, the DRI reported that they had arrested two people from Chennai, attempting to transport 10kg of k to Kuala Lumpur.

In May, 2012, Customs officials at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International airport detained a man from Tamil Nadu, who was hoping to smuggle 3.16kg of ketamine (estimated by DRI officials to have a market value of Rs 30 lakh) into Kuala Lumpur. The k was found in a hidden compartment in his baggage, inside white cloth pouches. 11

In July, 2012, 100kg of ketamine was intercepted by the DRI, at the Cargo Complex of Mumbai Chhattrapati Shivaji International Airport. The k (estimated to be worth approximately Rs 10 crore) was apparently headed for the UK – the arrestee allegedly also confessed to seven successful previous attempts to smuggle the drug.  12Also in July, two Indian men were caught attempting to transport ketamine from Delhi’s IGI airport to Malaysia, using fake documents. Their arrests led to the seizure of a total of 352kg of the drug (determined to be worth Rs 35 crore), Rs 1.60 crore in cash, and financial records of their dealings. At the time of their apprehension, the men were carrying 152kg of ketamine, mixed in ‘mehndi powder’ pouches, with officials later finding the cash and 200kg more k stored in a warehouse, mixed in solution with rose water, glucose, and glycerine. The pair confessed that they had successfully carried out a dozen similar international drug deals, purchasing large quantities of ketamine from factories in Himachal Pradesh and in Punjab, over several years. Their preferred technique was to dissolve the drug in a liquid or to mix it with a powder, before sending it abroad via ship or air (allegedly to at least eleven countries),  13 always using fake documents. 14

In August, 2012, the US Department of State’s International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) declared that India was the top exporter of black market ketamine to the rest of the world. A contemporary article from The Times of India states;

India’s strategic location — situated between Southwest Asia (the Golden Crescent) and Southeast Asia (the Golden Triangle) — makes it an attractive transhipment area for contraband bound for Europe, Africa, Southeast Asia and North America … While much of the contraband like heroin, opium and cocaine come from abroad and use India as a transit point; Ketamine is largely sourced domestically.” 15

The report itself’s ‘Indian drug enforcement agencies sources’ (apparently DRI officials) claim that approximately four to five tonnes of ketamine are diverted annually from stocks produced by licensed factories (clandestine manufacture being both relatively costly and complex) in areas such as Himachal Pradesh (reportedly host to tax breaks favourable to ketamine-manufacturing companies), Maharashtra, and Punjab. The report goes on;

India has become one of the main sources of Ketamine. Ketamine, a veterinary anesthesia, is not under international control, and the number of significant Ketamine seizures at major airports, in sea containers and in parcels continues to increase…India also manufactures organic and synthetic licit opiate/psychotropic pharmaceuticals (LOPPS). Destined for licit sales in markets around the world, these items (raw opium, chemical precursors, Ketamine, LOPPS) are vulnerable to diversion, including through illegally operating Internet pharmacies.” 16

The diversion is big business, and is believed by the DRI to involve international gangs acting in collusion with agents in the Customs and Directorate General of Foreign Trade. 17 That same month, a father and son duo  18 was caught in Jaipur with a ‘quintal’ (approximately 100kg) of ketamine intended for the American market (which they had apparently been supplying for several years prior).  19 The DRI also seized Rs.70 lakh in cash. A local reporter writes;

Rajasthan has been in (the) grip of drug cartels in recent years. Opium, its derivatives and synthetic drugs are freely available in most cities and small towns. Government and police turn a blind eye to its consumption despite large number of youths getting addicted. A few cases that police catch are never investigated to reach the main suppliers and are confined to arresting couriers. Rajasthan Police was recently pulled up by Supreme Court too for restricting investigations only around the couriers.” 20

Also in August, an engineering student from Chennai was arrested in northern Goa, in possession of 14.1g of ketamine, 3.3 grams of charas, and 451 LSD dots (“weighing 5.9 grams”), along with an unreported quantity of other drugs. 21

In September, 2012, a French national was arrested at a courier agency in Paharganj in possession of “at least eight kilogram of ketamine worth Rs 80 lakh”,  22 after police were tipped off by an unknown source that the man was involved in a Delhi-based international smuggling operation (apparently in collusion with an Indian national whom he had first met while a tourist in the city). 23

In October, 2012, Mumbai Customs officials from the Air Intelligence Unit (AIU) at the International airport arrested a Chennai man carrying 12kg of ketamine (contained in small packets inside a trolley), valued at “over a crore in the international market.” The man confessed to having been paid Rs 10,000 to handle the load, and that he had previously smuggled similar packages to Indonesia, Kuala Lumpur, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam, via either Chennai, Mumbai, or New Delhi.  24

In November, 2013, the Indian government revised legislation so as to list ketamine as a Schedule X drug – an upgrade from its previous status as a Schedule H drug. An FDA inspector was quoted;

Under Schedule H, Ketamine could earlier be sold by a registered medical practitioner. However, under Schedule X, the rules for acquiring Ketamine have been strengthened.”

The purchase of k now necessitated two prescriptions from a clinician; “One of the prescriptions is retained by the patient while the second copy has to be kept with the chemist. The chemist has to maintain records of sale and purchase of the drug for at least two years”. The FDA also instructed nearly 5,000 Mumbai pharmacies to return any ketamine which they weren’t properly licensed to trade, for reference providing them with a list of fifty ketamine formulations (most produced by twenty seven manufacturers in Maharashtra). They were reminded that; “Ketamine should be stocked under strict vigilance under lock-and-key arrangement”, and to apply for the new licenses if they had reason for continued, legitimate, trade in ketamine.  25 The inspectors stated that the sale of the drug was not profitable for many stockists, and so most were reluctant to apply for one of the new licenses (with the exception of hospital pharmacies and the like). 26

In December, 2013, six people were charged with approximately 37kg of methamphetamine hydrochloride and 9kg of ketamine smuggling – in December 2011 attempting to transport the Rs 500 crore  27 shipment via the Ahmedabad international airport. The syndicate operated by sending drugs to the United States and United Kingdom (concealed within packages of food), via courier companies in India and the UK owned by several of the accused. Further investigation led to the seizure of “Alprazolam tablets worth Rs.7.72 lakh in the illicit international market”, as well as “the biggest seizure of banned drug in which Central Excise officials seized 432 kg Methamphetamine Hydrochloride from …Maharashtra from the factory of Kumud Drugs Pvt Ltd…worth Rs. 469 crore in the international market.”  28 Three other accused men (one Indian national and two UK nationals living in London) managed to escape custody. In an unrelated case, in Jalgoan, on the 14 December, DRI officers raided the Rukhma Industries factory, arresting six people for the unlicensed manufacture of ketamine, 1.2 tonnes of which (worth approximately Rs 118 crore in the black market) was confiscated from a nearby “sister unit” named Biosynthetics, comprising “one of the single biggest ketamine seizures in Western India”. A subsequent search of the ringleader’s residence turned up Rs 1.2 crore in cash, which was seized by the DRI as the illegal proceeds of the sale of ketamine. Apparently the man (owner of a different chemical company with offices in Mumbai and factories in Ratnagiri district) sourced orders for ketamine before passing them to the owner of Rukhma Industries for manufacture, and had been doing so for some time previous. 29 Also in December, a Delhi businessman was reported to be, amongst other things,  30 the leader of a drugs ring operating since the year 2000, supplying large quantities of ketamine and other drugs, as well as the precursor chemicals required to make them, to customers in Canada and elsewhere. The group, which preferred to deal with large amounts, also manufactured its own merchandise, in factories in Himachal Pradesh and other areas. 31

Four people were arrested in late April, 2014, for the illegal manufacture of ketamine at pharmaceutical company Kamud Drugs, in Mumbai. The gang, which included the company’s managing director, were in possession of “nearly 1,000kg” of the drug, valued by the DRI at Rs.1 crore. 32

In May, 2014, police officers from Pune, and Ratnagiri seized approximately 3kg of ketamine, worth Rs 3 crore in the international market, from five people allegedly seeking customers for their ketamine smuggling operation. Two of the suspects – brothers, one a pharmacy graduate, the other employed by a pharmaceutical company – regularly stole small quantities of powdered ketamine, before enlisting the other three men to help them sell it. 33

In September, 2014, it was reported by The Indian Express that ketamine manufacturers were trying to get around the law, by making ‘unfinished’ ketamine.  34 The example given is of ‘Sick chemical units’ owned by the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) being used in an attempt to circumnavigate legislation by stopping the manufacture process at “the second stage, when it is still an unclassified chemical”. This unfinished product is then exported to “countries where law enforcement is not strict” for the manufacture process to be completed and from these countries it is finally shipped around the world for distribution.  35 Many seemingly legitimate factories produce ketamine (or else its chemical predecessors) illegally to create an extra revenue stream, whether by building a separate lab (either at the main factory or in a secondary location), or by simply making use of the existing facilities during downtime. Officials believe that;

Most of those involved in this illegal trade are chemical engineers from poor backgrounds. In at least two cases, they had taken production to sophisticated levels based on literature available on the internet … China still ranks ahead of us in manufacture of ketamine, but India is now being used as a hub for making the unfinished drug. Many cartels are working across international borders to create the drug. India, where the drug is easily available, is strategically placed.” 36

Series Navigation<< Notable Users of Ketamine

Will Phuq wrote this

Specialist in Munkeljuck, Schpamenfrugen, and Flippy-Pip, currently learning to yodel, while teaching himself Quantum Physics, yet still finding the time to continually yearn for his lost childhood hat; not forgetting that time he donated money to an attractive 'chugger' without even being asked to...

Notes:

  1. Resulting in a reddish product with the expected taste and scent.
  2. Contributing a distinct aroma and flavour to a lot of ketamine available in the UK over the past decade or two.
  3. Author’s research.
  4. ‘Ketamine powder seized from Ahmedabad airport, three held’ (www.indiatoday.intoday.in/story/Ketamine+powder+seized+from+Ahmedabad+airport,+three+held/1/77890.html)
  5. Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substance Act, 1985.
  6. Making it illegal to manufacture ketamine without a license from the FDA, and illegal to trade it without an import/export permit from the Central Bureau of Narcotics.
  7. Rajib Chatterjee – ‘Ketamine listed as narcotic, crackdown on domestic use’ (www.shroomery.org/forums/showflat.php/Number/14428403)
  8. Express News Service – ‘10 arrested, drugs seized as international cartel busted’ (www.indianexpress.com/article/news-archive/web/10-arrested-drugs-seized-as-international-cartel-busted/)
  9. Rahul Tripathi – ‘U.S. national among ‘party drug’ cartel caught in India’ (www.indianexpress.com/article/news-archive/latestnews/u-s-national-among-party-drug-cartel-caught-in-india/)
  10. Express News Service – ‘2 women held with ketamine’ (www.indianexpress.com/article/news-archive/web/2-women-held-with–ketamine/)
  11. Express News Service – ‘Man held with 3.16 kg ketamine at IGI Airport’ (www.archive.indianexpress.com/news/man-held-with-3.16-kg-ketamine-at-igi-airport/945192/)
  12. Express News Service – ‘100 kg Ketamine seized at airport’ (www.indianexpress.com/article/cities/mumbai/100-kg-ketamine-seized-at-airport/)
  13. Deeptimaan Tiwary – ‘India leading exporter of illicit party drug: US state dept’ (www.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Indialeading–exporter-of-illicit-party-drug-US-state-dept/articleshow/15301571.cms)
  14. Rahul Tripathi – ‘DRI busts cartel, seizes drugs worth Rs 35 crore’ (http://archive.indianexpress.com/news/dri-busts-cartel-seizes-drugs-worth-rs-35-crore/977678/)
  15. Deeptimaan Tiwary – ‘India leading exporter of illicit party drug: US state dept’ (www.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Indialeading–exporter-of-illicit-party-drug-US-state-dept/articleshow/15301571.cms)
  16. Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs – ‘2013 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) – Honduras through Mexico’ (www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/2013/vol1/204050.htm)
  17. Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs – ‘2012 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR)’ (www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/2012/vol1/184100.htm)
  18. An accountant and a pharmacist respectively.
  19. IANS – ‘Two arrested in Jaipur, 100 kg of banned drug seized’ (www.thaindian.com/newsportal/uncategorized/two-arrested-in-jaipur-100-kg-of-banned-drug-seized_100637471.html)
  20. Rohit Parihar – ‘Police seize huge haul of date rape drug from Jaipur’ (www.indiatoday.intoday.in/story/date-rape-drug-ketamine-seized–from-jaipur/1/212831.html)
  21. IANS – ‘Chennai student arrested in Goa for possessing drugs’ (www.thaindian.com/newsportal/uncategorized/chennai-student-arrested–in-goa-for-possessing-drugs_100641757.html)
  22. ‘2 drug traffickers held’ (www.deccanherald.com/content/277057/2-drug-traffickers-held.html)
  23. ‘Frenchman held for drug trafficking’ (www.indiantimes.net/index.php/states/delhi-ncr/1668-frenchman-held-for-drug-trafficking.html)
  24. Express News Service – ‘Man held with 12 kg of ketamine’ (www.indianexpress.com/article/cities/mumbai/man-held-with-12-kgof–ketamine/)
  25. The correct licenses are 20F and 20G under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act. Anyone trading in ketamine without these licenses can be sentenced to between three to five years in prison.
  26. Maitri Porecha – ‘Mumbai: Ketamine drug under FDA lens’ (www.dnaindia.com/mumbai/report-mumbai-ketamine-drug-under-fdalens–1945607)
  27. On the international, rather than national, market.
  28. Express News Service – ‘Charges framed against 6 accused in biggest ever drug haul in Gujarat’ (www.indianexpress.com/article/cities/ahmedabad/charges-framed-against-6-accused-in-biggest-ever-drug-haulin-gujarat/)
  29. ‘Massive drug bust in Mumbai, Ketamine worth Rs 118 crore seized’ (www.indiatoday.intoday.in/story/ketamine-worth-rs–118-crore-seized-in-mumbai-rukhma-industries/1/331284.html)
  30. Including car salesman and international gold smuggler (in the 1980’s).
  31. ‘Synthetic drug racket: Delhi businessman was in ‘D’ company, says Punjab police’ (www.indianexpress.com/article/india/india–others/synthetic-drug-racket-delhi-businessman-was-in-d-company-says-punjabpolice/)
  32. IANS – ‘Four held for illicit manufacturing of Ketamine’ (www.thaindian.com/newsportal/uncategorized/four-held-for-illicit-manufacturing–of-ketamine_100540431.html)
  33. Sushant Kulkarni – ‘Anesthetic ketamine doubling up as ‘party drug’’ (www.indianexpress.com/article/cities/pune/anesthetic-ketamine–doubling-up-as-party-drug/)
  34. Smita Nair – ‘Sick MIDC units being used to make ketamine’ (www.indianexpress.com/article/cities/mumbai/sick-midc-units–being-used-to-make-ketamine/)
  35. From the report in The Indian Express; “While a bucket of unfinished ketamine earns the manufacturer Rs 20,000, the finished product, sold in a crystal form in markets such as Canada, is sold for a minimum Rs 5 lakh.”
  36. Smita Nair – ‘Sick MIDC units being used to make ketamine’ (www.indianexpress.com/article/cities/mumbai/sick-midcunits–being-used-to-make-ketamine/)