India headlines, Travel

Ecstasy, honey-traps and the mafia – the Goan party becomes deadly

A state known for tourism is now infested with drug cartels.

By Rajiv Theodore

NEW DELHI: Think tourism and the image of Goa loom large. The petite picture post-card state on India’s west coast is blessed with pristine beaches, dazzling sunshine and a romantic monsoon, not to speak of the exotic local cuisine. It has always been a getaway for the Indian and the foreign tourist alike.

But today statistics have a different story to tell. The tourism ministry’s annual report of 2012 does not have Goa being mentioned anywhere in the 20 page document. Despite its 1000 plus dedicated charter flights, Goa shares less than 10% of foreign tourist traffic. Meanwhile, a legislative report on the police-drug mafia nexus in Goa has virtually reinforced the state’s reputation as the top narco-tourism destination in the country, a popular perception that the state is fast trying to shrug off.

A report of the committee, chaired by legislator Francisco alias Mickky Pacheco of the Goa Vikas Party, exposes the deeply entrenched drug mafia blessed by the police and political echelons.  The role of police in fostering the drug trade in the state came to light three years ago after Swedish model Lucky Farmhouse uploaded a  video on YouTube that showed her former Israeli drug dealer boyfriend Yaniv Benaim alias Atala of boasting of his connections with the police and politicians.

Now when you put the falling tourist levels and the rise of the drug cartels together, a picture emerges –that of a decadent state in the grip of mafia cartels. The recent murder of Obina Paul, a Nigerian, all fall into place like a jig saw puzzle.

Security officials in Goa talk about how the Nigerian drug cartel was aware of an eminent police crackdown on them and stage managed this murder as a move to distract attention away from them. Through this act, the cartel had ensured that this would lead to protests and later a diplomatic tussle. Paul is said to have been one of the moles who informed the narcotic cell leading to a seizure of drugs worth Rupees one crore. The drug cartel had faced many such losses in the past, especially after Karthik Kashyap took over as the anti-narcotic chief in Goa.

Officials also say that the mafia, with this killing, also wanted to convey a message to the moles and also bring about diplomatic pressure to safeguard Nigerian citizens living in the state.

In fact this is exactly what happened. A series of violent protests, followed by a diplomatic row with Nigeria. In turn, the African nation has issued a not so veiled threat that the Indians there would not be spared if a crackdown happens in India.

Goa has one of the most powerful drug cartels and mafia in the entire world which is controlled by the Russians, Israelis and the Nigerians. The Nigerians have taken over a considerable amount of control over the drug cartel in Goa with key operations in Calangute, Anjuna, Arambol and Morjim, according to the anti-narcotic cell.

The drugs themselves are categorized amongst cartels in order of availability in Goa—cocaine is with the Nigerians, the Russians have marijuana and charas while the Israelis deal with Ecstasy.

The biggest evidence to the drug trade in Goa was when a video of Yaniv Benaim Atala, the most powerful Israeli drug lord, went up on the Internet where he speaks about the manner in which the Goan police and top politicians hobnob with these cartels.

This had led to the arrest of several cops, including an inspector at Anjuna, Ashish Shirodhkar. It has also revealed how the nexus worked. The drug dealers first supply drugs to foreign tourists and then give out information about them to the police. The police in turn conduct the raid and demand huge sum of money in dollars. They are then given immunity which in turns allows the drug peddlers to trade without the fear of getting caught.

The anti-narcotic officials say that the drug trade in Goa is worth Rs. 6000 crore per year and most of the drugs are sourced from Afghanistan and Pakistan. All the drugs land in an unmanned area of a Goan coast. Most of the state’s coast still remained unprotected, unlike the rest of the coast in the country, which have stepped up operations after the attacks of 26/11. According to investigations, nearly 90 per cent of the drugs arrive by sea while the rest are brought in mainly by the Russian mafia in chartered flights.

Police point to the politician-mafia nexus. There are several legislators with whose blessings these cartels function. The biggest draw for the drug cartels are the rave parties and this is where most of the drugs sell. Rave parties normally organized on beaches have the protection of the local legislators.

Out of the 18 raids that were conducted in the past year, it has been found that there were at least 30 drug peddlers, all from Nigeria, operating in North Goa. Many of the Nigerians were over staying in Goa even after their visas had expired.

The dynamics of drug trade in Goa: the Russians are the oldest in this profession. They, however, adhere to a strict code. They supply drugs only to their nationals and there is a sense of loyalty which helps them survive. The nearly 60,000 Russians who arrive in Goa each year is enough clientele to keep their business intact. The Nigerians relied however on other nationalities to peddle drugs which led to major crackdowns.  The Russians normally use real estate business as a front for drugs.

The modus operandi of the Israelis has been the honey traps to lure in their customers. This cartel often peddles soft drugs, which could be ecstasy or the date rape variety. They rely on women as their carriers who operate mainly at Anjuna and parts of South Goa who pick up men and sell them drugs costing anything between 100 to 300 dollars.

Goa’s drug scene has evolved from the 70s-80s, when natural drugs like hashish and grass were the toast of the times, along with the occasional acid trips during beachside raves. One of the old timer drug dealer had a different story to tell. James Jenny, who was arrested for hoarding nearly 20 kg. of ganja in the early 90s spoke about his life later after his release. He would buy nearly a quintal of ganja from ‘the Silent Valley forests, which spread across three Indian states of Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

“I used to lug a 25 kg. sack of ganja on my back and walk along Anjuna, Ozrant and Vagator beach selling my stock. Life was so easy then,” Jenny claims.

The game and the turf has changed today. It’s become a fast changing complex corporate affair. According to Eduardo Faleiro, a former union minister of state for external affairs, the business of narcotics is more corporate oriented. It is controlled by foreigners, who have their fixed areas to operate from, and often prefer to cater to fixed nationalities.

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