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Drug Traffickers Minting Money in Pandemic to Smuggle 'Happy Pills' Into India from Europe

Aug 11, 2020

Sputnik International © AP Photo / Drug Enforcement Administration New Delhi (Sputnik): The Indian government earlier placed absolute restrictions across the country to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. An unintended effect of this survival strategy has been a reported spike in loneliness and depression, with 43 percent of Indians claimed to be suffering, according to smart-tech healthcare platform GOQii. Banking on easy mode payments like Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies, drug traffickers from Europe have flooded the Indian market with ecstasy, famously known as “happy pills” or the “rich man’s trip”. The demand for this pill has increased in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, which has left most people with less modes of entertainment and solace to beat the frustration of the lockdown. “Since the lockdown was announced, we noticed an increase in the import of foreign postal parcels containing narcotics. The seized drugs were addressed to different parts of the country, especially southern and eastern parts of the country India,” said Rajan Chaudhary, a senior official of India’s Department of Customs. The department received a high alert from INTERPOL in March, claiming organised crime syndicates would be using “new methods to smuggle narcotics” due to the COVID-19 lockdown and restrictions on air travel. Another senior official at the Chennai customs office told Sputnik that the department has witnessed a four-fold jump in the seizure of pills since April, in comparison to corresponding months last year. The official underscored that traffickers are using international courier services to smuggle contraband across borders. Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier announced a near nationwide curfew-like situation to slow the spread of the pandemic in the country. Couriers Originate From Europe Recently, customs officials in Ahmedabad city , Gujarat state, seized postal import parcels at the Foreign Post office containing the psychoactive drug MDMA, weighing 300gm and said to be worth INR 1.2 million ($16,000 approx.). Similarly, customs officials at Chennai International Airport, Tamil Nadu state, seized some 540 MDMA pills valued at INR 1.6 million  ($21350 approx) under Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act of 1985. According to data provided by officials at Chennai airport, they have registered 9 more cases of MDMA smuggling worth INR4.8 million ($64,700). A senior official in Delhi explained that most of the seized consignments containing ecstasy came from Europe, considered by some to be a hub of MDMA manufacture. “In terms of the pills, Netherlands is said to offer the best quality and these drugs are very common among youth in Europe. These are popular party drugs that are even used by teenagers in certain European countries. Several parcels had come from Germany also,” the official declared. An officer of India's Narcotics Control Bureau revealed that a gram of MDMA could now cost over INR 10,000 ($133 approx), after costing around INR 6,000 ($80) before the lockdown. An annual report published by the European Union on illicit drugs claims that MDMA has made a comeback in the region, with much higher doses in powders and tablets than in previous years. A European drug report from 2019 claims that the production of MDMA is primarily concentrated in the Netherlands and Belgium. India’s Narcotics Control Bureau could not provide annual data for 2019, however, although previous data suggest around a ton of amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) are seized within the country annually. MDMA is described by some medical websites as "extremely addictive and dangerous" and, in India, falls into the ATS category, whose principal members include amphetamines and methamphetamine. Originally developed by German pharmaceutical giant Merck in 1912 for use in psychoanalysis, MDMA, in controlled settings alters mood and perception, which also produces increased energy and feelings of pleasure. Cryptocurrency: Popular Method of Payment Explaining the purchase of the drugs, the narcotics official claimed that most of the manufactured synthetic drug compound arrive from Europe, and are likely to have been ordered on darkweb sites using Bitcoin or other cryptrocurrencies. “The Supreme Court of India’s recent order allowing Bitcoin transactions had enabled cryptocurrency exchanges to deal in INR again, and this is likely to have had an impact on the postal drug trade as well,” the narcotics official suggested. India’s financial regulator RBI has since 2013 warned of the potential risk to the financial system of the country of the use of cryptocurrencies. The use of cryptocurrency has never banned in India, although in April 2018, the RBI banned regulated financial institutions from providing services to businesses dealing in cryptocurrencies. The decision was challenged, and in March the Supreme Court of India struck down the RBI regulation. Hoping to Curb Illicit Trade  “Once smugglers realise that they are losing almost all their consignments, they stop. We know that these things happen in cycles, as they have in the past,” a customs department official in Delhi said. A senior official with narcotics mentioned links between drug smugglers and Dubai, stating that they are continuously monitoring the pattern of the consignments. ...

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