Indian Ketamine Smuggling, 2000-2009

This entry is part 5 of 7 in the series The Ketamine Konnection

Indian Ketamine Smuggling

Ketamine Smuggling in India and Beyond

Due to the high demand in Asia and Europe, along with its hitherto loosely enforced guidelines for supply, for years India has been a major source of ketamine, both licit and otherwise. Law enforcement officials in India and countries such as China, Malaysia, and the Philippines, believe that many smugglers of other drugs, for example, heroin, are moving over to Indian ketamine due to the lower risk and higher payoff.

In previous years smugglers of all nationalities have (or have at least have attempted to) ship k in or disguised as; barrels, boxes, ‘dog powder’, face-packs, glucose sachets, herbal remedies, massage oils, medication gel caps, milk bags, non-prescription drugs, pouches of tobacco, red wine, 1 rice, rose water, 2 salt, soap, talcum powder, and tea bags, as well as a range of other forms. However, those ingenious smugglers – while not quite up to the standards of other international drug traders, such as the cocaine cartels – are always looking to improve their chances, with more sophisticated attempts being trialed all the time (for instance, the forming of a ketamine emulsion of similar consistency to hair gel, passing as such to all but the most trained eye). 3

This is especially apparent when considering the transport via the postal system(s), often within international borders, of very small amounts of contraband, increasingly engendered by the transactions occurring online via, the internet and ‘deep web’. Examples of this ‘stealth’ include amounts circa 12g (which easily fits into a standard ‘letter’-sized envelope unnoticed) or less being disguised as ‘Bath salts’, ‘Camera lens cleaner’, or similar.

Indian Ketamine Smuggling, 2000-2009

A 22-year-old Taiwanese national, M.M. Nasser, bound for Taipei via Bangkok, was arrested in Chennai on 26 February 2002, with 20kg of Indian ketamine concealed in his luggage.

Between June and October 2002, the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) carried out Operation Thunderstorm, seizing drugs worth nearly Rs 500 crore, including 17 tonnes of cannabis, 1,500kg of ketamine, 500kg of hashish and various other drugs. 4

In February 2008, an article in Thaindian News warned of ‘date rape’ drugs 5 and the risk of having one’s drink spiked;

The most common date rape drug used everywhere is rohypnol or roofies. It is legal in Europe and Mexico, and prescribed for sleep problems or as anaesthesia. The other two drugs are gamma hydroxybutyric acid or GHB and Ketamine…Police say a few years ago the use of such drugs was restricted to those who were involved in cheating passengers in trains and buses by spiking their drinks, but now college students and young working people are using it to sexually exploit women.” 6

Also in February 2008, a Tamil man with suspected links to terrorist organisations was caught by Customs officials at Tamil Nadu airport in Chennai, attempting to smuggle 25kg of Indian ketamine (worth over Rs.25 million) to Taiwan. As reported by Thaindian, 7 officials suspected the man to be a member of a major smuggling syndicate operating out of Ramanathapuram, as the ketamine was concealed in stainless steel containers usually used for vending tea. An anonymous Customs official estimated that the department only managed to catch around one in ten of such smugglers, while ‘Central intelligence sources’ believed that the illegal ketamine trade was being used to fund terrorist activity. The Thaindian’s report concluded with this interesting quote from ‘police sources’; “The illicit trade involves strange bedfellows here. One of the origins of this banned activity is the LTTE – which sees itself diametrically opposed to Muslims of Sri Lanka who claim a separate identity despite speaking the common language”. 8

In April 2008, a man and a woman were caught at Chennai airport, trying to board separate flights to Malaysia with 10kg of Indian ketamine in tablet form and 2 kg of heroin, concealed in small food containers and allegedly worth Rs.50 million in total. The late-night joint operation by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) and Customs officials from the Anna International airport was enabled by a tip off, and the only consolation to the would-be smugglers is that they were apprehended prior to arriving in Malaysia, which awards the death penalty to drug smugglers. 9

In May 2008, 19.45kg of ketamine were seized at Kerala airport, Customs officials estimating the haul to be worth approximately Rs.20 million on the international markets. The passenger carrying the drugs was about to board a Sri Lankan Airlines flight when he was caught out. 10

In July 2008, a woman was arrested at Chennai airport, trying to take a flight for Kuala Lumpur. The women’s baggage contained “Rs.3 million worth of drugs”. 11 That same month, two people were held after attempting to move tablets of ketamine worth around Rs.50 million to Singapore, also via Chennai airport. 12

The DRI seized 197.5kg of ketamine (worth Rs.200 million) from a container in the port of Chennai in November 2008 – their biggest bust ever at the time. 13 The drug was hidden in onion bags, intended for the Malaysian market. 14

In December 2008, a French tourist was found dead beside an unconscious companion, in a trailer in the coastal village of Vagator, Goa. The couple had taken k (reportedly sourced from Pakistan), which led to the woman’s death. 15

Acting on an anonymous tip off in April 2009, DRI officials seized approximately 25kg of Indian ketamine from the Indira Gandhi International (IGI) Airport, arresting one man, an Indian national, in the process of attempting its transportation to Malaysia (hidden in pouches of tobacco). 16 Earlier in the month, another man (carrying 50kg of k) was also arrested at the airport, as part of a separate investigation.

In December 2009, Customs officials broke up a smuggling ring operating out of a post office in Mapusa, Goa – resulting in the arrest of a pharmacist for the mailing of parcels of ketamine to “some European countries”. At the time of the raid, the drug was still easily and legally available from many Goan pharmacies, although exportation without a license was banned. Customs reported;

We have seized 9.99 gm of ketamine liquid and several tablets in the seized parcels, which were marked to several European countries. In a subsequent raid at his residence, we seized 212 gm more. All the seized drugs are valued at Rs.2.73 lakh”

moreover, the offender had previously been arrested for a similar offence (for which the license of one of his three pharmacies was suspended). 17 Also in December, the DRI intercepted 440kg of ketamine at Tuticorin port,  18 in Chennai. The Indian Express reports that the k was intended to end up in Malaysia, and that; “while the total value of the seized substance in the Indian market is about Rs two crore, the price shoots up to about Rs 50 crore once it is smuggled out.” Three people were arrested, after the shipment (disguised amongst salt, rice flakes, and other items), was discovered. 19

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  1. Resulting in a reddish product with the expected taste and scent.
  2. Contributing a distinct aroma and flavour to a lot of Indian ketamine available in the UK over the past decade or two.
  3. Author’s research.
  4. Deccan Herald – ‘DRI intercepts heroin worth RS 120 cr near Indo-Pak border’ (
  5. ‘Date rape drug’ is a popular Indian epithet for ketamine.
  6. Sahil Makkar – ‘Date rape pills – the new party drug to snare women’ (
  7. IANS – ‘Major drug haul in Tamil Nadu airport’ (
  8. IANS – ‘Major drug haul in Tamil Nadu airport’ (
  9. Admin – ‘Huge drug haul at Chennai airport’ (
  10. Admin – ‘Drugs worth Rs.20 mn seized at Kerala airport’ (
  11. IANS – ‘Drugs worth Rs.3 mn seized at Chennai airport’ (–airport_10072811.html)
  12. IANS – ‘Two held with ketamine worth Rs.50 million in Chennai’ (–rs50-million-in-chennai_10073223.html)
  13. Although it is unclear whether police ever apprehended their suspect in this case.
  14. IANS – ‘Ketamine tablets worth Rs.200 mn seized in Chennai’ (–rs200-mn-seized-in-chennai_100120731.html)
  15. IANS – ‘French tourist found dead in Goa had come from Pakistan’ (–goa-had-come-from-pakistan_100134006.html)
  16. Express News Service – ‘Contraband worth Rs 2.5 cr seized from IGI, one held’ (
  17. IANS – ‘Ketamine export racket busted in Goa’ (–goa_100292793.html)
  18. A regular stop off for shipments of salt and so a logical venue for the smuggling of crystalline hydrochloride powders.
  19. Agencies – ‘DRI seizes date rape drug of 50 cr in TN’ (–of-50-cr-in-tn/)