Goa’s Black spot

Goa's Drug CartelEver since the killing of Nigerian Obado Simeon in October, Goa has been sitting on a time bomb. Authorities and locals insist that Nigerians are the root cause of all drug rackets in coastal villages and deporting them would substantially rid the State of its narcotics menace. SANGEETA YADAV with MAYA BHUSHAN explore how huge the grip of these drug cartels is on this global hotspot

Goa has suddenly changed ‘colour’. Suddenly, Africans, particularly Nigerians are missing from Goa’s coastal villages and party hotspots, otherwise known for being at their cosmopolitan best. But drugs, which the politicians, police and a jingoist chunk of Goa accuse the Nigerians alone of peddling, are still here.

If one were to closely follow the rhetoric especially that of local politicians following the siege of a busy junction by a mob of unruly Nigerians, who were protesting the apathetic attitude towards investigating the murder of Obado Simeon, it would seem that the Nigerians were the root of all drugs in Goa. It is believed that having them deported would substantially rid the State of narcotics. That argument does not even scrape the surface.

As rumours go the entire Simeon murder case goes back to what happened around mid-2012 when a youngster from Caisua died of an alleged drug overdose. Locals believe it was Nigerians who peddled the lad the ‘substance’ and tension began between locals and the foreigners. In November 2012, another stray incident resulted in stirring the animosity of the Nigerians. Twentyeight-year-old Umach was beaten up beyond recognition and he identified Indian drug mafia as his perpetrators.

According to a source, Simeon’s murder may have been triggered by what happened in Chapora in October 2013. Around 5 pm on October 30, Ramchandra Dabolkar from Chapora filed a complaint at the Anjuna police station that he was mugged by two Nigerians who also forced him to consume a narcotic substance.

More violent clashes between the locals and the Nigerians ensued especially in the Parra area. The Nigerian murder victim found only deaf ears when he turned up at the local police station seeking protection fearing for his life. He was attacked barely days earlier and the police didn’t even bother about the case much less take the trouble to register it.

In the intervening night between October 30 and 31, 2013, Simeon was brutally stabbed 25 times in his chest and stomach by what is believed to be an angry mob. The Government of Goa did not waste any time in issuing a public notice to the Ministry of External Affairs that Simeon’s death was due to “infighting between drug related gangs”. The statement created more hullabaloo than peace as the Chief Minister of the State, Manohar Parkiar ordered his police to identify Nigerians overstaying their welcome at Goa and to immediately deport them from the country.

But Simeon’s compatriots not only knew who the suspects could be, but also knew that the police were deliberately going slow on the alleged culprits.

“The murderers of the Nigerians have to be nabbed. The State is not doing enough to arrest them,” Eduardo Faleiro, Former Minister of State for External Affairs, says. The Nationalist Congress Party was the first to hint that the problem wouldn’t be solved unless the “brain” behind the operation isn’t nabbed. The party hit at ruling “coastal MLAs” for allowing the drug menace in Goa’s beach villages to fester and prosper. “Ruling MLAs are involved in drug trade,” NCP vice-president Trajano D’Mello says, demanding a judicial probe into the incident.

This murder issue sparked off an India-Nigeria diplomatic storm and Jacob Nwadibia, an administrative attaché of the Nigerian High Commission in New Delhi gave a stern warning to his Indian counterpart.

“If discrimination against Nigerians was not stopped immediately, Indians in Nigeria may face repercussions. There are only 50,000 Nigerians living in India, but there are over a million Indians living in Nigeria. Thousands of Indians living there will be thrown out on the streets if the forcible eviction of Nigerians in Goa doesn’t stop,” the official notice read.

Faleiro also added that there are many nationalities involved in drug trade, including Goans (Indians) and it was not fair to victimise only the Nigerians.

Amid mounting political pressure there is talks about the case being transferred to the CBI but the Goan police has already made some arrests.

“We’ve identified eight people who were behind the killing of Simeon. They belonged to the drug mafia. Two key accused, Surendra Pol and the leader of their group Praveen Manohar Mandrekar have been arrested while search is on to nab the others,” Dr OP Mishra, DIG-Goa police says, not wanting to discuss the case any further. He says that such gang rivalry cases are dime a dozen in this coastal city.

But there is another interesting theory doing the rounds in the Simeon murder case. According to renowned senior lawyer at the High Court, Vikram Varma, there is an ugly political-police-drug mafia nexus that is behind the killing of this Nigerian. For Varma, the infighting is just a cover up manipulated by the police to hide facts about their department’s liasoning with the drug peddlers.

“The matter is under investigation and it will be premature to draw conclusions, but what has been revealed so far is that Obado Simeon was providing information to the anti narcotic cell in Goa. His identity had been revealed to those suspected of being a part of the drug cartel in the city and they were provided information about Simeon’s whereabouts. Jitendra Kambli, a constable attached to the State Police Anti Narcotic  Cell, whose phone records revealed that he was in constant  touch with the accused, was said to be behind this information exchange. It’s believed that Kambli had divulged critical information about Simeon to the head of a cartel. He has since been suspended by the department. A person who was recruited to the post of Sub Inspector is also under the scanner as it is alleged that he provided a official vehicle to the assailants,” Varma says.

Varma tells you that the projection that this was a result of a turf war between rival gangs is clearly an assumption.

“Evidence gathered by the Goa police in the past reveals that it isn’t foreigner but some bad apples in the Goa Police who were possibly controlling the sale of drugs in the state. The record shows that after in- depth investigation, the Goa Police had arrested seven of their officers from within the Anti Narcotics Cell and they were subsequently chargesheeted,” Varma explains, adding that an inquiry commission appointed by the Goa legislature has also revealed the existence of a cartel between local drug dealers, politicians and police officers.

Meanwhile, owing to this brutal murder of Simeon, drug trade after several years in Goa will be temporarily carried out without Nigerian pushers for sometime, because the State has pushed them out of business. The local gangs are ready to fill in this void.

There are nearly three lakh migrants living in the State with the population being 14.75 lakh. Goa also enjoys one of the highest per capita incomes in the country at Rs 1,68,572 — three times more than the national average. But it’s the overstaying issue of foreign nationals, their involvement in all sorts of crime, especially in the narcotics substance racket and gang wars that is plaguing the city’s growth.

“Being a port city, Goa is a hub of foreigners who visit the city to engage in substance abuse and they get involved in drug supplying. There is a lot of money involved in the activity and these new peddlers bring with them the newest variety of drugs which usually costs a bomb. Slowly from part-time peddling, they form their own region-specific drug cartel and operation. Problem occurs when they dig into others territory. This has been happening very often in Goa and it is a growing menace. Previously our only headache was to bust a couple of Indian drug cartels but nowadays there is a Ukraine, Russian and Nigerian cartel that our police has to tackle. It is a cumbersome effort,” Karthik Kashyap, Superintendent of Police, Anti Narcotic Cell, Goa, says.

Kashyap tells you that there is a huge demand for designer drugs or party drugs in Goa which is created by mixing two or three drugs together.

“The Meow party drug is in vogue. Then there are Methylin, MDMA, XTC and LSD. Most of the drugs come from the continents of Latin America, Mexican, Europe and African continents,” he says.

But contrary to the popular notion that chunks of Goa’s coastline have been parcelled out amongst Russian, Nigerian, Israeli drug cartels, in reality, it’s not territory which is the crucial factor, familiarity between seller and buyer is.

“Russian tourists find it safer to buy drugs from their fellow nationals or at places run by fellow nationals. Same applies to other nationalities as well. It works well for the dealers too because they can mix easily and camouflage themselves with their countrymen. No suspicions arise,” a former Anti Narcotics Cell officer tells you.

While the Russians and Israeli peddlers catered to the consumers of their ethnicity and remained niche and low profile while protecting their respective territories, Nigerians became a force to reckon with in the open market. They focussed on selling dope to yuppies from Indian metros, who flock to Goa annually in droves to soak in the nightlife here apart from the retail sales to floating foreigners.

Known for the versatility, brazenness and a devil-may-care attitude, the Nigerians were quick to capitalise on the market camping outside popular nightclubs and peddling their wares “openly” often resulting in encroachment in areas where local pushers called the shots. This Nigerian influx into the State has been a botheration for the Foreign Regionals Registration Office in Goa as most of them overstay. According to the latest statistic revealed by the office, the number of Nigerians who have visited Goa in 2013 is 4,417, along with 520 Russians, 181 British and 169  from Afghanistan.

“If we talk about the Nigerians specifically they are guilty of overstaying without proper documents. Out of the 4,417 Nigerians in the State, only 19 of them have been registered with us. The rest of them have no supporting documents. Some even don’t have a valid passport. The police have arrested 51 Nigerians recently, 38 of them were not having documents. The rest have been arrested on charges of felony.  Only  eight to 10 people have photocopies of their passport and visa. In 2010, around 68 Nigerians have been arrested for criminal records like drug dealing, fights, assault, rape, murder etc. In 2011, around 31 were arrested, 71 jailed in 2012 and around 120 till now in 2013,” Tony Fernandez, Superintendent of Police, Security and FRRO (Foreigner Regional Registration Office) says.

Kashyap tells you that September- December is the time when Nigerians rush to India.

“The maximum number of tourists visits us between the months of September to April when it is considered in-season. Most drug related crimes peak during the Christmas and New Year. It is also the time when drug dealers make a killing by supplying drugs that are not easily available,” he explains adding that busting drug cartels is not an easy task.“The biggest breakthrough for us was in October when we seized above Rs 2crore amphetamine drug from a British national, Gary Baird. We have registered nine cases in the past two and a half months against different nationalities and Indians over drug dealings,” Kashyap says.

Catching the drug cartels red-handed with large amount of drug is also a challenge.

“You can’t take any strict action unless, the person is caught with large amount of drugs.  This is one of the reasons why we are very cautious when we get information. We only conduct a raid once we are 100 per cent sure that we will find drugs which amount to more than a lakh at the bare minimum. That way we know for sure that the culprit cannot go scotfree. But it isn’t so easy to bust this highly organised sector of crime. There are customised rooms and furniture where they hide drugs. During a raid, some peddlers manage to flush down the substance while others hide their ‘stuff’ in hidden compartments,” Kashyap says.

For now, while the belt simmers and local gangs and their political master try to make the most of the vacant spaces created by the disappearance of the Nigerians, the State and its residents should ponder hard on who the real enemies are and where are they hiding.

Statpack

  •  In 2009, 15 foreigners and nine Indians were arrested with over Rs 1crore worth of drugs. In 2010, 15 cases were registered against nine Indian and eight foreigners who were arrested with Rs 23 lakh of drugs each. In 2011, 13 cases were booked and six Indians and nine foreigners were arrested with Rs 52 lakh worth of drugs. In 2012, 13 cases were registered where nine Indian and four foreigners were arrested with above Rs 31 lakh of drugs
  • The number of Nigerians who have visited Goa in 2013 is 4,417, along with 520 Russians, 181 British and 169  from Afghanistan
  • In 2010, around 68 Nigerians have been arrested for drug dealing, infighting, assault, rape, murder etc. In 2011, around 31 were arrested. 71 Nigerians were jailed in 2012 and around 120 till now in 2013
  • There are nearly three lakh migrants living in the State with the population being 14.75 lakh. Goa also enjoys one of the highest per capita incomes in the country at Rs 1,68,572

(This article was published in The Pioneer Newspaper – http://www.dailypioneer.com/sunday-edition/sunday-pioneer/investigation/goas-black-spot.html)

 

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