The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Goof-up frees drug smugglers

New Delhi, July 13: A Delhi court has set free three alleged heroin smugglers following a goof-up by the Narcotics Control Bureau.

Additional sessions judge Kiran Nath acquitted Vasanthan alias Raja, Atul Kohli alias Bantu and K. Balachandran, a Sri Lankan, after the bureau failed to preserve the contraband properly until it was produced in court.

Bureau sleuths arrested Vasanthan from his Paschim Vihar residence here in August 1998, seizing 1.81 kg of heroin concealed inside the frame of wall paintings.

They were tipped off by the Customs and Excise (National Investigation Service) division of the British high commission, which also informed them that Kohli and Balachandran had earlier been convicted in Italy.

On questioning, Vasanthan said he was to procure and pack the contraband while Balachandran provided financial backing and Kohli arranged a buyer in Italy.

Vasanthan was charged with possessing heroin and the others accused of attempting to smuggle it out of India.

During the trial of the accused, defence counsel S.S. Das said the bureau had not complied with its own instructions on preserving the contraband.

The investigating officer is required to “deposit the drugs fully packed and sealed in the godown within 48 hours of seizure of such drugs.” A register is also to be maintained by the godown-in-charge.

But the bureau produced the heroin in court for the first time on November 26, 1999, more than a year after the raid, with no evidence to show that the material had been kept intact during the time. Even the godown register was not produced.

Making matters worse, the contraband that was produced in court was white, while the samples that had been drawn from it were dark brown.

The court said the sample produced and the contraband did not appear to be the same.

Acquitting Vasanthan, Justice Nath said: “I’m of the opinion that for the non-compliance of (the bureau’s) provisions, the accused has to be granted the benefit of doubt. It can not be said the prosecution has conclusively proved that the powder that was recovered during the search of Vasanthan was actually heroin....”

The judge also acquitted Kohli and Balachandran on charges of conspiring to smuggle the heroin.

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