It was the most high-profile drugs case, which had rocked Hyderabad as the names of several celebrities from Tollywood surfaced during the investigations. Leading film personalities one after the other appeared before the Prohibition and Excise department officials investigating the case. Shocking details of the use of drugs by some people in film industry, Information Technology sector and even students of some corporate schools were emerging. The year was 2017.
Two years later everything about the case has been forgotten with authorities giving it a quiet burial to protect the Tollywood personalities and other influential people involved.
Despite the denial by the Prohibition and Excise department, the non-serious manner in which it dealt with the case show that it was deliberately diluted to provide an escape route to the celebrities and the other accused.
The case was in the news recently after “Forum for Good Governance,” an NGO, filed a series of applications under the Right to Information Act (RTI) to know the status of the probe and the action taken so far.
The replies, the NGO received, revealed how deliberate attempts were made to hush up the case, despite all the attention it caught initially due to the involvement of stars.
In a reply to one of the applications, the department informed the forum that 12 cases were registered and four charge sheets were filed. But no celebrity figured in the charge sheet.
“It is surprising that cases were registered against only those who brought drugs to Hyderabad. What about the middlemen and consumers in Hyderabad. Why no cases were booked against them?” asked M Padmanabha Reddy, secretary, “Forum for Good Governance.”
The accused against whom cases were booked include Rafeal Alex Victor, a South African citizen, who was arrested in Hyderabad on arrival from Mumbai with cocaine. He told the police that he regularly visited Hyderabad to sell cocaine for ₹5,000 per gram.
Reddy pointed out that the so-called Special Investigation Team (SIT) constituted by the Commissioner, Prohibition & Excise, to probe the case did not trace Rafeal’s customers.
A similar approach was adopted after Puttakar Ranson Joseph, working in the film industry as a manager, was caught possessing ganja. Police found ‘hukka’ machines and other material at his residence in Hyderabad. Joseph was the manager of leading actress Kajal Agarwal who sacked him after his arrest.
“There is a reason to believe he was supplying drugs to film personalities but no attempt was made to trace his customers and find other details,” Reddy told The Federal.
SIT headed by inspector
The forum pointed out that there are some fundamental flaws in dealing with the case leading to escape of the accused. Generally an SIT is headed by the senior most officer of the department but, in this case, an inspector of the Prohibition & Excise Department was appointed its head. Another junior officer assisted him.
“The two junior officers failed to go into the details of the case and book the culprits who were working as intermediaries and the end users like film personalities and students in corporate schools. The inspector is too small a post to book heavyweights like film personalities and corporate school students who have political clout.”
The forum noted that the case made hardly any progress. The SIT issued notices to 62 people including 12 personalities from the Telugu film industry, questioned them and wherever they got suspicion collected samples of nail and hair and sent the same to a lab.
The forum suspects that the investigation stopped against film personalities when Movie Artists Association (MAA) entered the scene.
“MAA president went to the Chief Minister and discussed the issue, came out and informed the media that no film personality will be arrested. He said things were going on smoothly and there was nothing to worry. It led to a lot of suspicion,” said Reddy.
The forum said there were reports that the government wanted to go slow on the matter preferring to let the film industry discipline itself.
Telangana may become another Punjab
Concerned over the lack of seriousness showed in the crucial case, the forum approached the chief secretary, urging him to review the case and transfer it to any other agency like Vigilance & Enforcement, or Anti-Corruption Bureau and get it thoroughly probed under the supervision of a competent senior officer.
“The drug mafia is slowly spreading into schools. Serious action has to be taken before Telangana becomes another Punjab,” the NGO comprising retired bureaucrats wrote to the chief secretary.
Reddy said if the authorities failed to act on their request, they will approach the court seeking a thorough probe by any other agency to find out the middlemen and consumers to curb the menace.
Case so far
The case hit the headlines after two drug peddlers carrying Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD) were arrested. They were allegedly supplying drugs to people in the film industry and corporate schools.
Mobile numbers of prominent personalities from the Telugu film industry were found in the contact list of Calvin Mascarenhas, the alleged kingpin of the drug racket.
The SIT summoned a total of 62 persons including some from Tollywood and examined them under section 67 of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act and section 161 of Criminal Procedure Code.
Leading actor Ravi Teja, top actress Charmme Kaur, Mumaith Khan, well-known director Puri Jagannath and young actors Tarun Kumar and P Navadeep were among the stars who were questioned by the SIT.
Cinematographer Shyam K Naidu, ‘Baahubali 2’ actor Subbaraju, Tanish, Nandu and Ravi Teja’s driver Srinivas were also among those grilled.
Among those arrested in the case include Dutch national Mike Kamminga. He was considered a key link in the supply of drugs from European countries to the other accused in the case.
Those detained and questioned also included US citizen Dundu Anish — an aerospace engineer who had earlier worked with NASA, and seven B Tech graduates, most of whom were working for multi-national companies.
The investigators found that the peddlers sold drugs to students of several colleges and schools in Hyderabad, some Tollywood celebrities and even techies.
The Information Technology Department of Telangana had also alerted some IT firms whose employees were using narcotics.
The authorities had recovered 3,000 units of LSD, 105 grams of MDMA (commonly known as ecstasy), 45 grams of cocaine and other narcotic and psychotropic substances from the accused.
The key accused were allegedly getting drugs from some European countries through courier companies and even the Postal Department of India.
The SIT had also summoned officials of three leading courier firms for questioning and sought cooperation from the Postal Department in the investigations.
The investigating team also questioned owners of pubs and bars in the city, some businessmen and others linked with the case.
Apprehensions that the case could damage the brand image of Hyderabad and might even force Tollywood to shift out of Hyderabad appear to have forced the authorities to go slow and finally give the case a quiet burial.