Drug cartel has two factories running in Tanzania; Network spread over Colombia, Morocco, Pakistan

Two months after Mumbai Mirror reported about former Bollywood actress Mamta Kulkarni's involvement in the Rs 2,000-crore ephedrine haul case, Thane police, on Saturday, named her as a key accused and said that they would seek her extradition from Kenya - where she is currently believed to be residing.

"We have included Mamta Kulkarni's name in the first information report (FIR) and are in the process of getting a Red Corner Notice against her. Earlier, we have issued a RCN against her husband Vicky Goswami," Thane Police Commissioner Parambir Singh told media persons on Saturday.

Two witnesses, in their statements recorded under Section 164 in the presence of a magistrate, referred to 44-year-old Mamta as not only the 'face' of the drug racket, but also credited her with calling the shots.

This, coupled with inputs from the US Drug Enforcement Agency that is already probing Mamta's husband Vicky Goswami's involvement in international drug rackets, helped Thane police name the actress as a prime accused.

Mumbai Mirror had reported in April that Mamta was a central figure of an international drug racket after Thane police seized 20 tonnes of ephedrine from a Solapur factory worth approximately Rs 2,000 crore. According to the police, gangs in India, Poland and some other European countries had planned to send the consignment to Eastern Europe from Mumbai via Gujarat.

The witnesses also named one Abdullah, an international narcotics dealer from Kenya, who is also Vicky's partner-in-crime and operates from Tanzania. The police believe that Abdullah tried to set up a factory in Kenya's Mombasa and already has two factories running in Tanzania.

Mamta featured in several Bollywood movies in the 1990s, including the Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Karan Arjun. Police said that as Vicky could not leave Kenya because of an Interpol notice against him, he asked Mamta to meet clients in Dubai, Singapore, South Africa and the US.

Incidentally, Vicky and Mamta were detained by Kenyan authorities in 2014 on the charge of drug trafficking. Vicky, 52, was earlier imprisoned for 25 years in the United Arab Emirates in 1997 for trafficking around 11.50 tonnes of Mandrax but was released in November 2012 on grounds of good conduct. In 2013, he married Mamta Kulkarni. The couple is reportedly based in Mombasa in Kenya.

The Bollywood angle

It has also emerged that the police are probing a couple of Bollywood distributors and a film financier after the police found that they had been in regular touch with Mamta.

"There is a Bollywood link to the racket and we are probing the roles of some old associates of Mamta," Singh added.

Far-reaching narcotic web

Mamta allegedly also struck business deals with drug networks in Maharashtra, and Vicky used her name to carry out bank transactions. The couple allegedly routed huge sums from drug deals through the hawala channel.

According to the police, the absconding-accused Kishore Rathod, and Jay Mukhi were old friends and Rathod owed more than Rs 2 crore to Mukhi. It was Rathod who asked Mukhi to sell the ephedrine consignment and get back his money. Mukhi, in turn, roped in Manoj Jain - the owner of Avon Sciences factory in Solapur. Rathod was also the one who introduced Vicky to the gang and used to route their consignments through Kenya with Vicky's help.

Mukhi and Jain have both been arrested by Thane police.

Since April when the rich drugs haul was effected in Mumbai, Thane and Solapur, the Thane police have nabbed a total of 10 accused and filed a chargesheet against them in a local court earlier this week.

Another seven accused are still wanted in the case being probed by the Anti-Narcotics Cell of Thane police.

Officers from the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Thane Police are also probing Vicky's alleged drug operations in Africa and Europe, as it is suspected that he is the main conduit of the Eastern European drug cartels. In fact, the police said that he had facilitated a meeting between top drug lords at a 54th-floor apartment in Dubai's Burj Khalifa, during which Mamta was also present. Mamta and Vicky had also been present in another meeting comprising the same set of people, which was held in a hotel in Kenya.

Investigations into the operations of the ephedrine racket busted by the Thane police Crime Branch have indicated that the cartel, which has players like actor Mamta Kulkarni and her husband Vicky Goswami, has its network spread over several countries.

The India end of the racket spans Solapur, Thane, Mumbai and Gujarat, while the international networks reach as far as Colombia, Morocco, Pakistan and Africa.

According to the police, shortly after a meeting held between key cartel players, including Kulkarni, Goswami, his partner Abdullah from Tanzania, arrested accused Jay Mukhi and Manoj Jain, Mukhi, who was handling the operations in India, sent 100 kilograms of ephedrine to Tanzania.

“The ephedrine was driven to Mumbai and handed over to an accomplice based on Mohammed Ali Road, who sent some of it to Tanzania and the rest to Kenya. In return, Goswami sent several crores of rupees through a hawala route from Kenya to Gujarat to Mumbai. The gang had selected a godown in Virar to store the ephedrine in the future,” said Thane Police Commissioner Param Bir Singh.

The police have also found that some of the accused in the case were in touch with small-time Bollywood actors, and the police are now working on to find out the nature of this interaction.

On the international end, the police have found indications of Goswami being in touch with drug lords in Columbia, Morrocco and Pakistan. “Mukhi and Jain had a meeting at a Burj Khalifa hotel in Dubai on April 8, where two Moroccan drug lords were present. Besides, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) of the United States has shared some information with us, according to which Goswami is in touch with Colombian drug lords,” Mr. Singh said.

A source said that there had been recent inputs about Goswami being in contact with drug lords in Pakistan as well, and this was being verified.

Another important player is Abdullah, who owns Saburi Pharma company in Tanzania, which, the police said, is a front for the cartel’s operations. It is here that the ephedrine was processed into amphetamine. “The DEA currently has one team in India and another in Africa, which is looking into the cartel’s operations in Kenya and Tanzania. Information is being shared on a regular basis,” said an officer with the Thane Crime Branch.