By Dr. G. Shreekumar Menon
Mangaluru, February 1, 2024: According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, opium cultivation fell throughout Afghanistan, slashing its supply by 95 per cent, and this has resulted in Cocaine replacing Heroin since 2022, in India, and across the world. January 15th 2024, saw the interception of a Kenyan woman, by DRI (Directorate of Revenue Intelligence) officials at Kempegowda International Airport, (KIA) Bangalore, carrying 2.56 kg of cocaine, valued at Rs.26 crores, in the false bottom of her suitcase. Earlier in December 2023, DRI officials had intercepted a Nigerian national at the same Kempegowda International Airport (KIA), who had travelled on an Ethiopian Airline flight from Addis Ababa to Bengaluru on a medical visa. He had swallowed 99 capsules of cocaine weighing two kgs, valued at over Rs. 20 crores. December 2023 saw parallel seizures at Chennai Airport, where Customs officials intercepted a Nigerian passport holder who arrived from Addis Ababa carrying on his person, cocaine weighing 1201 grams’ worth over Rs. 12 crores.
1.218 kg of cocaine seized from Venezuela woman at Chennai airport
Another new trend being adopted by traffickers is dissolving cocaine in whiskey bottles. In June 2023, a 25-year-old Kenyan woman was arrested by Customs at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi for smuggling cocaine dissolved in two whiskey bottles she was carrying. The accused was intercepted after her arrival from Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) and search resulted in the recovery of two whiskey bottles with cocaine worth approximately ₹13 crore dissolved in them.
In April 2023 a Tanzanian was arrested at New Delhi airport for smuggling cocaine by mixing it with liquor in whiskey bottles. The passenger was carrying liquid cocaine worth nearly Rs. Twenty crores.
Cocaine is harder to detect in its liquid form than in its powder form. Liquid cocaine production involves dissolving cocaine in water, with solvents, and substances containing chemical compounds like mannitol, glucose, cellulose, or lactose. It is then concealed in products such as liquor bottles, shampoo bottles or mixed with sugar cane molasses. This method facilitates trafficking, as the substance becomes very difficult to detect, especially in high density passenger areas like airports. A still advanced method to transport cocaine is “cream cocaine,” which is cocaine hidden in shampoos, hair conditioners, or lotions. The fact that these foreign drug traffickers have developed the requisite laboratory facilities, in India, to extract the cocaine dissolved in the alcohol and creams, should ring alarm bells, for all enforcement agencies.
Bengaluru police seize drugs worth Rs 21 crore from Nigerian national in December 2023
Foreign tourist arrivals in India in 2023 stood at 7.24 million till October, says government statistics. Further, according to data from MHA’s Bureau of Immigration more than 1.8 crore Indians travelled outside the country, between January 2022 and November 2022. Indian Customs Baggage Rules permit duty free Alcoholic liquors or Wines up to 2 litres. If even a small segment of these tourists bring cocaine dissolved alcohol, the immense contours of the drug problem can become disastrous.
Not only in India, but even Europe is witnessing high volume of cocaine trafficking. Belgian Customs seized 116 tons of cocaine in the port of Antwerp in 2023, setting a record for the second year in a row, authorities revealed in January 2024. Demand for cocaine is growing rapidly across the EU, and governments blame the drug trade for violence affecting major port cities like Antwerp, Rotterdam in the Netherlands, and Marseille in France. The port of Antwerp has become the main gateway for Latin American cocaine cartels into the European continent. Colombia, Ecuador and Panama remain the top source countries for cocaine.
As cocaine shipments to Europe via Antwerp have gone up in recent years, so have the violent incidents: gangs have thrown grenades and Molotov cocktails at rivals’ houses and set cars on fire, which are often connected to stolen drug shipments. Antwerp has been in the throes of a multifaceted gang war over the huge amounts of cocaine flooding the port. More than 50 bombings and gun attacks on buildings since 2023 have been attributed to major drug traffickers.
Belgium is preferred by drug traffickers as conditions are favourable. The combination of the European Union single market, a port so massive that officials estimate only two per cent of incoming containers can be checked, a flourishing trade in laundered diamonds and gold, and close access to a modern transportation network spanning northern Europe has led to the creation an organised drug hub. The illegal cocaine trade has been generating hundreds of millions of euros flowing between Belgium, Morocco, Dubai and Panama.
The detection of liquid cocaine being trafficked within India by foreign nationals, is a matter of concern. The European cocaine trade was being managed by 40-year-old Edin Gacanin, a Dutch-Bosnian trafficker based in Dubai nicknamed “Tito” who is considered one of the 50 largest cocaine traffickers in Europe. Similarly, foreigners from Kenya, Nigeria and Ethiopia, are active in drug trafficking in India. Even in the capital, New Delhi, the African community controls the drug trade in a substantial way.
Another angle that needs to be investigated is that nearly 13,520 NGO’s operating in India received a whopping Rs. 55,741.51 crores in foreign grants or a phenomenal $6.71 billion, in just three fiscal years! The present day economic conditions prevailing in Western nations, does not permit them the luxury of doling out such vast sums to NGO’s operating in India. Whether the cocaine drug trade in India is also involved in laundering funds, will need detailed and quick investigation, as also the government publishing facts and figures and nature of work and geographical areas of operation by these super rich NGO’s?
As the Cocaine trade is all set to replace the Heroin trade, the value of seizures will soon touch astronomical figures. According to the latest edition of the United Nations World Drug Report, 2023, “ 296 million people used illegal drugs in the last year, while around 22 million of them used cocaine. With global cocaine production reaching new highs, cocaine supply chains to Europe have been diversifying, which is driving prices down and pushing quality up, potentially increasing the level of harm caused by use of the drug in the region. Still, the prices for cocaine have gone up compared to 2020. In the United Kingdom, for example, cocaine prices fell from the equivalent of $178 to $110 between 2019 and 2021. The country continues to have a high cocaine retail street price in a global comparison, with prices lower in most European countries. In developed economies outside of Europe, a higher premium is usually charged for cocaine, like in Hong Kong ($152 per gram), Japan ($183 per gram) or Australia ($263 per gram). For the United States, no 2021 numbers were reported, but in 2020, the price for a gram of cocaine stood at $120 per gram. While prices in Arab countries, which have strict laws forbidding drug use and trade, spiked in 2020, they have recently dropped to levels comparable to the aforementioned Australia or New Zealand”.
Government of India, needs to expand the reach and scope of all enforcement agencies, to handle the burgeoning cocaine trade.
Dr. G. Shreekumar Menon, IRS (Rtd), Ph.D. (Narcotics)
Former Director General of National Academy of Customs Indirect Taxes and Narcotics & Multi-Disciplinary School Of Economic Intelligence India; Fellow, James Martin Centre For Non Proliferation Studies, USA; Fellow, Centre for International Trade & Security, University of Georgia, USA; Public Administration, Maxwell School of Public Administration, Syracuse University, U.S.A.; AOTS Scholar, Japan. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org