‘DRI and the Dons: The Untold Stories’, the book authored by B.V. Kumar, former DRI Director General and former Member CBEC, and published by Konark
Publishers Pvt Ltd, New Delhi, will be released on June 14 at New Delhi by G.K. Pillai, former Home Secretary, Government of India.
The book provides readers an insight into the challenges faced by the Indian law enforcement agencies involved in combating organised crime. It covers some of the important cases unearthed by the DRI officers who refused to buckle under any threat, even at the cost of life and limb while dealing with major smuggling syndicates. A few of the gangsters operating in the underworld of Bombay (now Mumbai) not only held the city to ransom but also beyond. They were a law unto themselves.
An effort has been made to tell the real stories of real people who were involved not only in smuggling of gold, drugs, arms and ammunition, extortion and contract killings (supari) among others but also anti-national activities.
About the Author
B.V. Kumar joined the Indian Revenue Service in 1958 and held various key positions such as Director General, Revenue Intelligence; Director General, Narcotics Control Bureau; Director General, Economic Intelligence Bureau and Member, Central Board of Excise and Customs amongst others in his 35 years of service. During his tenure, many syndicates involved in organised economic crime that operated transnationally including smuggling of contraband and drugs, were neutralised. The Illustrated Weekly of India had dedicated its front cover (October 11-17, 1987 issue) and described him as ‘Supersleuth’.
Kumar has represented India at various international conferences, including Interpol meetings held between 1985 and 1988. Post retirement, Kumar was a visiting lecturer at various institutions, including IIMs (Ahmedabad and Bangalore), the National Defence College, New Delhi and the National Police Academy, Hyderabad.
He has authored The Preventive Detention Laws of India, The Darker Side of Black Money – An Insight into the world of Financial Secrecy and Tax Havens and The Underground Economy – An Insight into the World of Tax Havens and Money Laundering. He has also published a number of papers on law, taxation, terrorism and organised crime.
We are publishing excerpts from the book ‘DRI & The Dons: The Untold Stories’ in three parts. Here is part one of the excerpts.
THE word ‘Kasaragod’ is said to be a combination of two Sanskrit words—kaasaara, which means lake or pond, and kroda, which means a place where treasure is kept. No place could have ever been more aptly named. This town, with a population of about one lakh, has become a breeding ground for people who live on the edge of the law and in their desperation to make quick money, take up smuggling. Srikanta Ghosh in his book, ‘Indian Democracy Derailed: Politics and Politicians’, mentioned Kasaragod, on the northern part of Kerala, about 50 km south of Mangalore, as always having been a smugglers’ paradise.
Located on the northern coast of the state of Kerala, Kasaragod was famous from time immemorial. Many Arab travellers who came to Kerala between the ninth and fourteenth centuries AD visited Kasaragod as it was an important trading centre then. They called this area Harkwillia. Being part of Malabar Coast, Kasaragod has trade links with the Gulf countries. Earlier, Arab dhows would come to India for spices, but later upgraded themselves to bringing in gold. Gold smuggling is big business in Kasaragod. Apart from being known as ‘God’s Own Country’, Kerala has also earned the title of being ‘Gold’s Own Country’! The only industry that has thrived for centuries in the area is smuggling, and the entire township of Kasaragod is said to have been built on the profits made from smuggling. Nowadays, the ‘Kasaragod Gang’ is the new buzzword operating at major international airports in the country. Gangs from Kasaragod, have been storming the country’s airports with their innovative bullion smuggling skills.
Kerala’s best-known smugglers—A.P. Abdul Rahiman alias Pakistan Abdul Rahiman alias Langda, K.S. Abdulla, M.B. Moosa, Soopi Ibrahim, Kallatra Abbas Haji—had their headquarters in Kasaragod. The calm sea that flows parallel to National Highway 66 makes the Kasaragod coast most ideal for smuggling and helps smugglers a great deal in carrying on with their illegal activities.
The 1984 Malayalam crime thriller film Athirathram, starring two National Award winning actors, Mammootty and Mohanlal, in the main roles, went on to become the third biggest blockbuster that year. The central character, Tharadas, played by Mammootty, was a ruthless smuggler. Tharadas was arrested in the middle of a dramatic chase by police officer Prasad, played by Mohanlal. Tharadas was reading a newspaper, the very picture of calm inside a refurbished mini tempo traveller, attired in a stylish jacket and Ray-Ban sunglasses. When Prasad questions his whereabouts, Tharadas replies, ‘I am a smuggler. S-m-u-g-g-l-e-r!’ According to the film’s screenplay writer, John Paul, that particular scene occurred verbatim in real life. Tharadas was truly inspired from the story of a real-life smuggler of Kasaragod—K.S. Abdulla. Folklore has it that when the police arrested this man, the locals shut shop in protest. Later in the 1980s, A.P. Abdul Rahiman alias Langda and Kadavath Abdulla alias Atta from Kasaragod entered the smuggling scene. Both operators had well-knit groups to operate their landing operations in Kasaragod, as well as in Bombay as part of Dawood’s group in his smuggling activities. Abdul Rahiman, the kingpin of smugglers, was based in Dubai. In 1984, Mangalore Customs seized 3,200 gold biscuits landed at Gangolli. This landing was organised by Abdul Rahiman sitting in Dubai and his stepbrother K.M. Abdulla was apprehended by Customs on the spot. Kasaragod 187 Seizure of 1600 gold bars near Mangalore Informers literally risked their lives to part with information. They lead a life of fear and uncertainty. The money which they earn as rewards invariably has to be spent prudently— simply because any ostentatious spending would expose them to danger. They are the very life blood of the Intelligence officers of the department, since they provide useful and, in most times, actionable intelligence. There is almost a sacred relationship between the two—of trust and respect for each other. On 12 February 1989, based on credible information furnished by K.M. Hamza alias Shanas Hamza, and his associate, Aboobacker —both hailing from Kasaragod—that gold was to be transported in two vehicles, officers of the DRI, Mangalore Regional Unit, kept vigil. Surveillance on the roads is a high-risk affair—you never know when exactly the suspect vehicle will come, so you have to maintain a keen eye at all times; the drivers of suspect vehicles could be armed and in their desperation, could resort to stupid things—and events could be shot to hell in a split second. Around 2.45 p.m. on 12 February 1989, at the Talapady checkpost, the DRI officers lying in wait noticed a blue Maruti coming towards them from Kasaragod side. When the car reached the checkpost, the officers directed the driver and occupants to stop the car. Apart from the driver there was only one other occupant sitting in the backseat. Though the driver slowed down, it turned out he was attempting to take a U-turn and speed away—but the officers rushed towards the car and managed to stop it. At this point of time, a grey Ambassador with only a driver as the sole occupant also approached from Kasaragod side towards the checkpost. The DRI officers stopped this car, too. Both the drivers were apprehended and they revealed their names as Abdul Majeed and Abdul Azeez. No incriminating documents were found with them and neither were there any documents for the vehicle’s ownership. In addition, Azeez did not even possess a driving license. They stated that they were proceeding to Bombay and when questioned whether they were carrying any contraband goods, they did not give any convincing reply. Therefore, in the presence of witnesses, the officers searched both the cars and found something concealed ingeniously in secret cavities. For carrying out a thorough search and also for safety and security purposes, both the cars were brought to the DRI office. Two silver tin plates were found screwed near the bottom of the chassis where the front doors close—and these tin plates were distinct from the original chassis. When the tin plates were unscrewed, a cream-coloured cloth was found which was packed tightly inside the tubular cavity. Two such cloths were removed from the left side cavity and one from the right side. In fact, they were typical vests (jackets) specially stitched with pouches for carrying 100 gold biscuits. On further examination of the back seat in the rear portion, a welded attachment was found giving the appearance of a back frame. A close examination revealed that there was a cavity in the welded attachment. Once opened it was found to contain five abnormally heavy jackets. In total eight jackets (8,000 tolas) were recovered from the Maruti. Thereafter, a detailed search of the Ambassador was undertaken and after removal of the back seat, it was noticed that an original steel structure with two plates were screwed on to the top corners. On removing the screws, the officers found lids to the cavity. From the left side cavity, four jackets were retrieved, and similarly from the right-side cavity, four more jackets were taken out—in all, eight jackets (8,000 tolas) were recovered. When questioned, both drivers, Abdul Majeed and Abdul Azeez, did not give any satisfactory explanation for transporting these foreign-marked gold biscuits. In total, 16,000 tolas of foreign-marked gold were recovered and seized and the value was valued over Rs 6 crores at that point of time (present-day value would be Rs 60.84 crores).
When Abdul Majeed was interrogated, he revealed that he was working in Sharjah from 1977 to 1987, and finally returned to India in January 1988. He was contacted by a friend, who offered him the job of transporting foreign marked gold concealed in vehicles on an attractive remuneration. He had first met this friend in Sharjah a few years ago and subsequently in Kannur, where he agreed to the proposal. This Sharjah friend gave him the Maruti at the appointed date and time with the gold and the same car was now under seizure. He also told him that he should proceed to Bombay via Mangalore and another Ambassador would be following their car. Near Kannur KSRTC bus stand he was asked to slow down and he found the Ambassador parked near the bus stand. He was joined by the driver, Abdul Azeez, of the Ambassador, and both cars proceeded cautiously towards Mangalore. In his statement recorded on the same date, Majeed said that he was not aware of the residential address of his friend. He also stated that he was involved in transporting smuggled gold for the very first time. The statement of the other driver also corroborated the version of Majeed. He too, was obviously a carrier who had no clue about the whereabouts of the mysterious person from Sharjah who had given him a car laden with gold for transportation to Bombay. Abdul Azeez was given the grey Ambassador and was instructed to follow the blue Maruti in which he would be travelling. They had to proceed to Bombay on the national highway via Mangalore and Belgaum. When they reached the Talapady check post, Azeez saw the Maruti being stopped by some officers and the Maruti attempting to take a U-turn and Mohammed escaping from the car. Before he could do anything, his car was also stopped by the same officers and he was subsequently taken to Mangalore for a detailed search. Further investigation was taken up to ascertain the identity of the mastermind responsible for the landing of gold on the Kerala coast and for its onward transportation to Bombay. As a first step, the DRI officers were able to identify the workshop in which the false cavities were fabricated and fitted to the Maruti and the Ambassador. The DRI officers identified the motor vehicle dealers’ showroom in Mangalore, where the Ambassador had been purchased by one P.M. Abdulla on cash payment of Rs 97,672. According to him, Abdulla was about 26-years-old, dark in complexion, 5 feet in height and medium-built, and had a Malayalam accent. After registration, Abdulla took delivery of the car with the necessary documents. He also stated that when the car was delivered, pre-delivery inspection was done and there were no cavities and he had no further connection with Abdulla since. DRI investigations revealed that one K.M. Shamshuddin came to a Maruti dealer in Mangalore and enquired whether he would be able to get a new Maruti to give as a gift at a wedding, and for this purpose he gave an advance of Rs 50,000 to an auto consultant. Subsequently, the balance Rs 40,000 was also paid on 30 January 1989 and the Maruti was registered in the name of K.M. Shamshuddin. However, the address given in the RC book was found to be fictitious and the DRI could not make further investigation or progress in this gold seizure case. On the basis of investigation conducted till that point of time, proceedings were initiated against all persons involved in the smuggling of the foreign-marked gold and also for the confiscation of 1,600 gold biscuits valued over Rs 2 crore. Accordingly, the gold involved in this case was confiscated absolutely, along with the cars in which they were being transported. Up till now it was a gold smuggling case under investigation by the DRI.
This case took a new dimension when the informer, K.M. Hamza, was tragically shot dead at Kasaragod, while returning from Mangalore on the night of 29 April 1989. The Hamza murder case was initially investigated by the Kerala Police and subsequently by the CBI, Cochin. The CBI on completion of the investigation filed the charge sheet against 19 accused persons on 7 January 1992 before the Chief Judicial Magistrate (CBI), Ernakulam. A thorough investigation conducted by the CBI led to the emergence of the following facts. Abdul Rahiman was a notorious smuggler based out of Dubai. He had engaged as his agent for smuggling, amongst others, the deceased Hamza, who was married to his cousin, and also Aboobacker, offering them compensation of Rs 25,000 per jacket of gold delivered at specified destinations. In one successfully completed operation, the first accused declined to pay the promised amount to the agents, Hamza and Aboobacker and after some intense bargaining, paid only Rs 18,000 per jacket. This conduct on the part of the accused had created a bitter feeling in the minds of the two agents mentioned above. Sometime in 1989, the first accused entrusted one consignment of 1,600 gold biscuits (16 jackets) to Hamza and Aboobacker for transport to Bombay. They took the opportunity to settle scores with Abdul Rahiman and leaked out the information of smuggling to DRI officials. Acting upon the information furnished by Hamza and Aboobacker, the DRI officers intercepted two vehicles with contraband gold at Talapady checkpost and seized the entire consignment worth about Rs 6.02 crore. As stated by Aboobacker that he and the deceased Hamza got Rs 45 lakh on 29 March 1989, and a further sum of Rs 48 lakh after the death of the latter as reward money, Abdul Rahiman was greatly enraged by the breach of trust committed by Hamza and Aboobacker and threatened to kill them. Thereafter, a criminal conspiracy was hatched which led to the murder of Hamza. According to the prosecution’s case, Hamza was shot dead at Kasaragod. Kasaragod Police, after getting the telephone message, rushed to the spot and found Hamza riddled with bullets and lying bleeding in the driver’s seat of a Maruti. From the facts and circumstances of this case, the High Court of Kerala opined about the existence of the criminal conspiracy between Abdul Rahiman and the participation and involvement of his stepbrother, K.M. Abdulla, A.C. Abdulla, and 17 others. Initially, 19 persons were arrayed as accused in the case. Three of these accused became approvers pursuant to the pardon granted to them. Out of the 16 accused sent up for trial, eight accused and Abdul Rahiman were absconding. The case against them was split and was re-filed as CP No. 2/92 on the file of the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Ernakulam. The remaining eight and the main accused were tried for offences they committed. One of the convicted accused, Firozuddin Basheeruddin, and two others filed appeals to the Supreme Court on 20 August 2001 (Case No.: Appeal (Crl.) 357-359 of 1998) against the Kerala High Court that confirmed the order passed by the Additional Sessions Judge in his judgment dated 17 January 1995, finding the appellants guilty and sentenced them to imprisonment for life. The Supreme Court in its detailed judgment had observed that: ‘The learned Trial Judge in his judgment, has discussed in great detail the entire genesis of the case including the decision taken by A.P. Abdul Rahiman to eliminate the deceased and his associate since they had proved to be obstacles in smooth running of the business of smuggling of gold. Trial Judge has also discussed various steps taken by the accused in carefully planning and organizing the operations to kill the deceased and finally the successful execution of the plan culminating in the death of Hamza.’ As of now, nine people have been sentenced to imprisonment for life in the Hamza murder case, and A.P. Abdul Rahiman, the main suspect, is still to face his murder trial.
Background of A.P. Abdul Rahiman
Abdul Rahiman, also known as Pakistan Abdul Rahiman, Langda and Computer, was a native of Kasaragod and a notorious smuggler and landing agent based out of Dubai. During the heydays of smuggling he was working for Dawood Ibrahim. He started his career as contraband gold biscuit carrier in Mumbai and Delhi and later started working as a landing agent. His area of landing operations was the North Kerala Coast, the Karnataka Coast up to Kundapur/Gangolli and at Delhi through the Delhi Airport. One of the biggest contraband gold seizures to the tune of 3,200 gold biscuits was made by Customs, Mangalore, during April 1988 and the landing agent was A.P. Abdul Rahiman. His stepbrother, K.M. Abdulla was supervising this landing operation and was arrested along with his other associates. K.M. Abdulla was a known Indian handler of Dawood’s counterfeit Indian currency business. K.M. Abdulla was arrested in Colombo in 2007 in connection with a fake currency case of Rs 2.6 crore. In the same year he was deported to India. He was the second accused in the sensational murder of Shahanas Hamza in 1998 in Kasaragod. In 2012, the CBI court convicted Abdulla to life imprisonment in the Hamza murder case. Besides these cases, he also faces trial in Mumbai in the seizure of narcotics and drugs made by DRI, Mumbai.
A.P. Abdul Rahiman was nicknamed ‘Pakistan Abdul Rahiman’ since his family ran a restaurant called ‘Pakistan Restaurant’ in Kasaragod after Independence. His second nickname—Computer—was given because of his elephantine memory. He never had the habit of maintaining any diary or telephone index of any kind. His third nickname, Langda, was given when he met with a car accident during the early 1970s while travelling from Mumbai to Kasaragod somewhere at Kolhapur. He lost his son in the accident and the crash left him with a pronounced ‘limp’, thus the nickname Langda. Yet another misguided shining star of Kasaragod was M.B. Moosa. He started his career as a landing agent for textiles, wristwatches, calculators and cassette car stereos. His area of operation was initially at the Udupi Coast in Karnataka. Later on, in the 1980s, he diversified his activities to silver and gold landing and commanded respect for his efficiency in organising landing operations. Moosa was one of the main landing agents for the Dossa Brothers, who operated from Dubai for landing silver along the east coast—both in Tamil Nadu and through the Andhra Pradesh. He was controlling a well-organised network to land contraband silver and gold. He came under the radar of the Central Excise Authorities, Mangalore, for the first time when specific information was received that goods of foreign origin have been brought and dumped in a hut near the Gujjarbettu sea coast on the night of December 1971. On the basis of this information, Central Excise authorities raided the place and recovered 94 gunny bundles, which on examination were found to contain fabrics, metallic yarn, calculators and cassette car stereo Bigstons (player/recorder)—all of foreign origin. On further investigation it was found that Moosa was the landing agent of these contraband goods. The Collector of Central Excise, Bangalore, imposed a penalty of Rs 10 lakh on M.B. Moosa. His appeal filed against this was dismissed by the Customs, Excise and Gold Control Appellate Tribunal, Chennai. On March 1974, Customs Authorities had intercepted a fishing boat from the Neeleswaram Coast, some 50 km south of Kasaragod, with 86 silver ingots said to be illegally transported from Neeleswaram to a foreign country. Enquiries conducted had revealed that M.B. Moosa and his father-in-law, Kallatra Abdul Khader Haji were involved in the illegal transportation of silver ingots and were found guilty of offence under the Customs Act, 1962. The goods were confiscated and a penalty of Rs 5 lakh was imposed on Kallatra Abdul Khader Haji and of Rs 3 lakh on M.B. Moosa. Appeals were filed before the Central Board of Excise and Customs against the original order passed by the Collector of Customs and Central Excise. The appeal was rejected.
Sometime in December 1991, Moosa was assigned the job of landing silver and contraband by Mustafa Ahmed Dossa alias Mustafa Majnu. A missing silver consignment supposed to be landed at the Trichy Coast raised Dossa’s suspicions, though Moosa reasoned it had been loaded on a boat that had sunk off the Tamil Nadu coast. Dossa was not the sort to buy this story flat out. Dossa flew to Mangalore on 4 January 1992 for a meeting with Moosa at Hotel Pentagon and then travelled the next day to Chennai to meet one Govidaraj, an associate of Moosa, to find out the truth. Govidaraj, a trusted lieutenant of Moosa, was to supervise the landing of the silver consignment on the Trichy Coast. The next morning, on 5 January 1992, they hit the Mangalore–Chennai road in two vehicles, passing through Bangalore. Dossa travelled with Moosa in the latter’s Mercedes. From Bangalore, a Maruti Gypsy followed on with Dossa’s cronies in a sedan. Near Mulbagal, a small town, 100 km from Bangalore on way to Chennai, the convoy veered off the highway. Dossa allegedly shot Moosa and his driver at point-blank range. The driver of the Gypsy, T. Bawa, was shot too, but managed to flee and inform the police. The Gypsy was later found abandoned near the Indiranagar office of the DRI in Bangalore. This sensational murder meticulously planned and executed by Mustafa Ahmed Dossa alias Mustafa Majnu, still remains an unsolved case by the Karnataka Police. Consequent to his death, his property was bequeathed to his legal heirs. Customs Authorities took steps for the recovery of the penalty amount due to the department by attachment and sale of the properties belonging to the late Moosa through the Tahsildar, Kasaragod. The legal heirs contested against the department’s recovery proceedings by filing a Writ Petition before the High Court of Kerala. The High Court of Kerala in its order in 2006 found no infirmity in the proceedings initiated by the Customs authorities for recovery of the amount by attachment and sale of the properties left behind by Moosa.
And thus, ended the life of Moosa. He lived by the sword and died by the sword. He could not leave behind his ill-gotten wealth to his heirs either. Tragically, despite all such violent incidents, simple lessons are never learnt. Mohd. Dossa’s name prominently figured in the assassination of L.D. Arora, Additional Collector of Customs, on March 24, 1993 between 7 and 7.15 p.m. in the Cantonment Police Station Limits, Allahabad The Government of India issued a Notification dated 12 July 1993 with the consent of the Uttar Pradesh government and entrusted the investigation of the case to the CBI, who registered a case on 13 July 1993 under Section 302 of the IPC. During the course of investigation, offences under Section 120- B of IPC and Sections 3(2) and 3(3) read with Section 3(1) of the TADA Act were added with the permission of Superintendent of Police, CBI, New Delhi. After completion of the investigation the prosecution alleged that Mohd. Dossa, Tahir Shah @ Tappu and Om Prakash Srivastava alias Babloo Srivastava entered into a criminal conspiracy to eliminate L.D. Arora to strike terror among the Customs officials with a view from preventing anyone from passing on information about their smuggling activities or their involvement in the Bombay Blasts case, on 12 March 1993. Babloo Srivastava and his associates were sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of L.D. Arora. This is a case where the long arm of the law will not hesitate to punish an accused involved in a serious crime like murder, in spite of passage of time. Arora was responsible for detection of a number of important and major cases of smuggling of gold, silver and narcotics, when he was posted as Deputy Commissioner of Customs (Preventive) in the Bombay Custom House. Earlier, when he was posted in Goa and as Asst. Director in Jamnagar Unit of the DRI, he ruffled many feathers of the top smugglers, which was responsible for their anger and was one of the reasons for taking revenge against him.
As facilitators, the landing agent’s responsibility is to land and arrange delivery of the landed contraband consignment to the Indian agents at the designated places.Kerala’s best known smugglers hailing from Kasaragod, namely, K.S. Abdulla, Kallatra Abdul Khadar Haji, Ibrahim Soopi, M.B. Moosa, A.P. Abdul Rahiman and Kadavath Atta faithfully undertook their job as landing agents and earned respectability in the smuggling fraternity. But, when M.B. Moosa and K.M. Hamza lost the trust and absolute blind faith reposed in them by Mustafa Ahmed Dossa alias Mustafa Majnu and A.P. Abdul Rahiman working for Dawood Ibrahim, they were shot dead and eliminated.
Tomorrow : The Untold Stories – Part 2
The One who Got Away: Haji Ahmad Ibrahim Merchant