Monday, April 20, 2009

Acetic anhydride seized from AI plane

NEW DELHI: In what could be a major embarrassment for the government here, Afghanistan has seized 210 litres of acetic anhydride, used for processing heroin, from an Air India flight that took off from New Delhi.
The quantum of the seized chemical is enough to produce more than 200 kg of heroin. Acetic anhydride is used to refine opium into high-grade heroin, which is pushed into international market and the proceeds used for funding Al Qaida and Taliban.
The seizure from India's official carrier, which was made on March 22, led the Hamid Karzai government to lodge a strong protest with India, sources said. For the contraband to reach Kabul on board India's official carrier is puzzling because the narco smugglers behind the operation managed to get past surveillance agencies, which had been alerted against the strong possibility of such an operation taking place.
Afghanistan had, just a month ago, alerted New Delhi to take preventive steps to ban export of the chemical as there was no legitimate use of the chemical in the war-ravaged nation.
Based on Kabul's request and an advisory from the UN's International Narcotics Control Bureau, the government had issued an alert on March 6 to all its intelligence and anti-narcotics agencies to check any diversion of the chemical to Afghanistan.
The seizure has also raised questions about the security apparatus as a whole, with authorities grappling with the fear of collaboration of government functionaries.
A high-level investigation has since been initiated here involving ministries of external affairs, home and finance. The role of Customs personnel, besides those belonging to RAW and IB — tasked with keeping a watch on narco smugglers operating from India —are under the scanner.
For India, which is involved in an extensive rebuilding effort in Afghanistan, the seizure comes as a major setback considering that a large part of Afghanistan under Taliban control has been under opium cultivation and part of the proceeds goes into funding of Al Qaida and Taliban.
Opium cultivation in Afghanistan this year has been to the tune of 7,700 tonnes of which nearly 725 tonnes of heroin, worth more than Rs 7 lakh crore in European market, is estimated to have been manufactured, largely in areas under Taliban control.
In fact, one of the reasons of US's unhappiness with the Karzai government is its inability to crack down on narco trafficking amid rising suspicions that the kin of the Afghan president, particularly his brother, was involved in the drugs trade.
Sources said initial investigation had revealed that the consignment, masquerading as pharmaceutical goods, had been booked from Mumbai. Reports coming in suggest no official export of the chemical had been allowed to Afghanistan this year.
The role of Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), the nodal agency under the home ministry monitoring production, distribution and consumption of precursor chemicals, has also come in for scrutiny as in the last one year alone, at least 2,000 litres of acetic anhydride had been seized by different agencies across India.
The leakages hinted at alleged involvement of manufacturers as the individual annual requirement of a majority of pharmaceutical companies within India is much below the quantity seized by agencies.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime is currently running Operation Tarcet to target smuggling of precursor chemicals into Afghanistan which supplies more than 90% of the world's heroin and is considered as a source of funding for terrorists.

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