A major bust last week left investigators shocked over how easily drugs were available to students.

From Dark Web through WhatsApp Investigating officer tells TNM how drugs reach Hyd kids Akun Sabharwal (Centre) shows the seized drugs to mediapersons
news Crime Tuesday, July 11, 2017 - 15:10

The arrest of three alleged drug dealers, a musician named Calvin Mascrenhas, Abdul Quddos, a private employee, and student Abdul Wahab, shook up Hyderabad last week. 

When investigators went through their phones, reading WhatsApp messages and emails, they were able to identify most of the customers of the drug racket. They found to their shock, that the customer base consisted of students from across institutions in the city.

The trio, along with others, had been supplying high-end drugs like LSD and MDMA to over 1,000 students – some as young as 13 – studying in 27 colleges and 26 schools across the city.

In a massive haul, the enforcement wing of the Excise and Prohibition department also seized 700 dots of LSD worth Rs 20 lakh and 35gm of MDMA worth Rs 1.4 lakh from the three peddlers.

Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD), derived from the extremely poisonous ergot fungus, is one of the most potent mood-changing chemicals in the drug market, while Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) alters the mood and awareness of surrounding objects and conditions, and produces feelings of increased energy, pleasure, emotional warmth, and a distorted sensory and time perception.

The case has rattled parents, teachers and authorities alike, with many waking up to the unseen danger that lurked right under their unsuspecting gaze. 

Besides school children, the drug ring’s alleged customers also included several techies from top MNCs, and many film personalities from Tollywood.

In all, the Enforcement agency has arrested 10 people, including a group of four accused led by a man named Nikhil Shetty, and the chief accused Brendon Ben.

How the investigation progressed

The man leading the entire investigation, Director of Enforcement, Akun Sabharwal told TNM what one of the city's largest ever drug busts has revealed.

"The investigation was started around a month before the first arrests, based on inputs of availability of psychotropic substances in Hyderabad. A Special Task Force (STF) was organized to look into this issue," he said.

As the investigation moved forward, police officials also went undercover, posing as potential customers to breach the racket. 

The team started with small purchases from small dealers, and worked its way up, almost spending Rs 50,000, before it reached the bigger dealers. These were the key people transporting large quantities of the drug across the city. 

"As per the statements of the accused, they have been part of the drug racket since 2014. In the beginning, even the STF was not sure that we would be getting such a big catch," Akun says.

However, on the ramifications of the raid, he said that it was still "premature to comment on how big a blow it has dealt to drugs available in the city."

He also admitted that the revelations from the bust had shocked the investigation team.

"While we are doing our duty, our entire team was definitely shocked and disturbed over the availability of these drugs to young students and adults," he says.

Importantly, the drug dealers targeted students from rich and affluent families, who were studying in reputed international and corporate schools.

"Based on the investigation, it can be said that any child or adult who could afford around Rs 3,000 to Rs 4,000 per week were the only ones with the ability of buying or using LSD," Akun says.

Modus Operandi

All of the 10 men arrested are well-educated, with some of them even knowing their way around the Dark Web, said Akun.

The Dark Web is a less accessible part of the internet, where users are practically anonymous and can gain access to a wide variety of illegal transactions.

"The drugs had been bought over the Dark Web as per the confession of the accused. These (arrested persons) formed a network of peddlers, who procured drugs from the internet and sold them to whichever group they had access to," Akun said.

While the 'transaction' for larger 'orders' of drugs happened via the Dark Web, the accused would then contact smaller dealers or customers via Whatsapp and Telegram.

However, officials are still ascertaining the physical source of where the drugs came from.

"The deliveries were done by courier services. However, we could not lay our hands on any delivery, and therefore it is not right to comment whether the drugs came from within the country or outside. As per the statement of the accused, they have paid for the drugs through Bitcoins and cards," Akun added.

When asked if officials suspected any more key players – as reports of a Tollywood connection are doing the rounds – Akun refused to comment, saying, "The investigation is only seven days old."

While many have asked that the names of the educational institutes or customers be revealed, officials have remained tight-lipped.

"The names of the schools and the children have not been revealed, to protect the identity of those concerned," Akun said.

The department has also assured students that authorities will not pursue the matter if the students give up their drug habits and undergo counselling.

The department has also set up a toll-free number (1800 425 2523).

"The toll-free number is for anyone to access. Information regarding availability, sale of drugs or of any person indulging in use of drugs can be given on this number," Akun said.

Those manning the helpline will keep the identity of callers confidential.

On sensitising the concerned school children, parents and teachers, Akun said, "It is difficult for an investigating organisation to look into rehabilitation and treatment. Thus, we have restricted ourselves to the investigation of the case. However, other wings of the government and civil society have been co-opted for awareness and for providing support."