Wednesday, October 21, 2020

India: Enforcement Directorate attaches chimpanzees and marmosets in money-laundering investigation

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Chasing economic offenders is the Enforcement Directorate’s forte, but now it finds itself dealing with primates as part of investigations into a money-laundering case.

In a first, the agency has issued an order for provisional attachment of three chimpanzees and four marmosets. “The value of each chimpanzee has been assessed as ₹25 lakh and marmosets are worth ₹1.5 lakh each. Therefore, the total valuation stands at ₹81 lakh,” said an official.

The Enforcement Directorate probe is based on separate cases registered by the Wildlife Department of West Bengal in 2014 and the State Police on June 19, 2019, against one Supradip Guha. The accused ran an organised wildlife smuggling racket.

The chimpanzees and marmosets were kept in confinement at the residence of Mr. Guha in the fourth lane of Baguiati in Kolkata, from where they were rescued by the Customs Department during a raid on January 22, 2014.

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“Investigations revealed that a pair of chimpanzees had already been smuggled to Hyderabad. The rest were in the process of being transported,” said an official.

The Wildlife Department instituted a case against Mr. Guha. It later turned out that he had forged an authorisation letter to transport birds, following which the local police also booked him under various provisions of the Indian Penal Code.

“Chimpanzees are found only in central African countries like Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania. It is suspected they were smuggled into the country via Bangladesh,” the official said.

The accused had recorded contradictory statements before the Customs authorities and the Wildlife officials to evade action by both the agencies. He also obtained fake certificates regarding birth of the three chimpanzees in India. “Based on the findings, the chimpanzees and the marmosets have been provisionally attached,” said the official.

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They have been kept with the Alipore Zoological Garden in Kolkata. The accused was attempting to take their possession by making false statements and producing forged documents.

The attachment order will enable the zoo authorities to legally keep the chimpanzees and the marmosets and take good care of them. The three chimpanzees are a major attraction and a source of revenue to the zoo, said the agency.

Mr. Guha is currently on the run. Despite a High Court directive, he has not appeared before the probe team.

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