Behind cocaine bust: $1,500 and a 64-year-old from Lima
Armando Lopes Reyes , cocaine pouches in his bags.
At around 9.30 pm on April 13, a foreigner dressed in a pink shirt and blue jeans emerged from the T3 gate at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi. With two black trolley bags in tow, he started walking towards the pre-paid taxi booth.
If a movie were to be made on the life of Armando Lopes Reyes, the turning point would be what happened next.
Within seconds, he was identified by an informer and boxed in by three policemen. And within hours, investigators had prised out of those two bags 1.3 kg of “pure cocaine” worth Rs 6.5 crore, one of the biggest seizures in Delhi Police history.
Two weeks later, police are still connecting the dots to trace this new cocaine trail, spanning over 14,400 km, all the way from Brazil’s Sao Paulo to New Delhi via Dubai. What they have in hand, meanwhile, are clues to a parallel mystery: How did a 64-year-old clothes merchant from Lima in Peru, a father of seven, end up in Tihar jail?
“As far as I know, this is the first time Delhi Police have arrested a Peruvian smuggling an illegal drug into the country,” said a senior police officer.
And from what Reyes has told his interrogators, through a Spanish translator based in Delhi, it’s the story of a “family man” lured into being a cocaine carrier so that he could take care of his wife and children, five of whom are still in school.
“Reyes said he sold clothes at his hometown in Lima, where he lived with his second wife and seven children. Two children are from a previous marriage — they are grown up and work in the clothes market,” the translator, who did not wish to be identified, told The Indian Express.
“He said that his children were growing up fast and so were his expenses. To make more money, he said, he began buying cloth material and readymade garments from Peru, Bolivia and Brazil and selling them in Ecuador for thrice the profit,” he added.
“On one such trip to Sao Paulo, late in 2014, he said he was having a drink at a restaurant when a man who identified himself as Juan struck up a conversation with him. He claimed that Juan offered air fare and US$ 1500 to smuggle cocaine to India — US$ 1000 at the airport and US$ 500 on return. He told us that Juan handed over the two bags at the Sao Paulo airport,” the translator said.
Reyes also told interrogators that he flew to India thrice in 2014 – to Kolkata, where he stayed from May 1-20 and July 6-22, and Mumbai from October 6-November 5 – but claimed that he did not carry any drugs with him.
It was while returning home from Mumbai, via Delhi, that the informer met him, sources said.
Interestingly, the informer walked into the Inter State cell of the Delhi Police Crime Branch office with the tip-off hours before Reyes’ Emirates flight from Dubai was to land.
What’s equally interesting is the struggle that the sleuths underwent to get through to Reyes, who did not know English, before the translator was called in.
“We couldn’t understand a word of what he was saying. And he couldn’t get a word of what we were telling him,” said an inspector who was part of the team that nabbed Reyes at the airport.
“We later came to know, through the translator, that he had planned to take a taxi to a hotel in Paharganj where he was to stay for around two weeks. He was expecting to meet a man he named as Ali who would receive the consignment. Juan had given Reyes a SIM card, too, to contact him, but we nabbed him before any of this could happen,” he added.
At first, though, Reyes denied any knowledge of the drugs recovered from his bags and pleaded innocence, said the translator who was called over by Crime Branch sleuths to their office in Chanakyapuri at around 3 am.
“Armando was very reluctant and nervous, and hardly spoke. He seemed to know little about his handlers,” the translator added.
A police officer admitted that it took them some time to be convinced that they were actually dealing with a “cocaine smuggler”.
“He was quite well-dressed and fit for his age — among the clothes in his bag was a Hugo Boss T-shirt and Adidas shoes, the most expensive ones. Later, when we had his health checked before sending him to Tihar jail, we realised he had some age-related problems such as high blood pressure and diabetes,” he added.
Police believe it would have taken Reyes or his handlers at least five hours to wrap the cocaine pouches in four-layered detection-proof packing and stuff them inside the cavities of the handles and frames of the trolley bags.
The cocaine trail, however, has led to nowhere — police have not been able to trace Ali, who was to contact Reyes in Delhi. “We don’t know who Juan is, either,” an officer said.
When contacted, Delhi’s Additional Deputy Commissioner of Police (Crime) Bisham Singh said cocaine smuggling “forms the pivot of a multi-billion dollar industry of illegal drug trafficking” with its base in “the three Latin American countries of Peru, Bolivia and Columbia”.
“With the arrest of Reyes, we have uncovered a new international drug cartel operating in India directly from South America,” Singh added.
Peruvian Embassy officials and the family of Reyes have been informed of his arrest, said the officer who is part of the investigation team. And if convicted, Reyes could be sentenced to a minimum of 10 years in jail, the officer said.
“The rich youth who consume the drug are never caught, nor are the handlers operating from behind closed doors. In the play of big money changing hands across countries, it is the small fish who usually get caught,” he added.
Source:: Indian Express