He started his career as a tea supplier and housekeeper in a hotel in Andaman in 1987. Today, Ahmed Thambi Maideen, also known as ATM, is an international smuggler based out of Nagapattinam district in Tamil Nadu.
He was booked in nearly 75 cases in Kadapa alone, but each time he managed to escape the police. However, this finally came to an end on Thursday, as he was caught by the Kadapa police on Thursday along with his aides — Jabar Sadiq and Kamal Basha.
The police caught him with two high-end luxury cars, two sedans and a pickup van worth Rs 1.23 crore carrying 68 red sanders logs weighing 1.10 tonnes, and a Rs 54,640 in cash. He has reportedly sold over 3,000 tonnes during his 20-year stint.
Red sanders is a rare kind of sandalwood. It is in high demand in many international market and costs around Rs.1,500 to Rs.2,000 a kg according to a report by Livemint. India has banned the export of this rare species, which has made its smuggling thrive.
In his confession to the police, he said that he used to export red sander logs in containers by concealing them under the load of vegetables, seafood, granite slabs, ceramic tiles and food grains.
Becoming a smuggler
While working as a tea supplier and housekeeper in a hotel in Andaman, he became acquainted with a couple from Singapore, who frequented Andaman for business and stayed in the hotel. The couple, with whom he had developed a cordial relationship, suggested that he get into the exporting business. Maideen, a resident of Nagore in Nagapattinam district, quit his job and initially exported seashells.
Later, he returned from Andaman in 1990 to start his own export agency in Chennai. Slowly, he gained expertise in the exporting business and went on to export several other goods — including seafood and vegetables.
During this time, he came into contact with red sander smugglers, who smuggled the wood from Chennai to Myanmar.
This marked the beginning of Maideen as a crucial link in international smuggling. He developed key contacts with several other smugglers within India as well as international smugglers from China, Singapore, Malaysia, Dubai, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Thailand and Bangladesh. He later evolved as a kingpin in smuggling in these countries.
Maideen, who thrived in the smuggling business for over 20 years has clearly made a fortune. According to the police, he owns a luxurious home in Egmore in Chennai, which is equipped with a helipad, and also has immovable properties worth over Rs 79 crore (preliminary estimates of police) in both Tamil Nadu and Puducherry.
Kadapa Superintendent of Police Babujee said that his moveable property of Rs 1.23 crore and immovable property of Rs 78.50 crore would be attached under the new Amendment of AP Forest Act of 1967.