New Delhi: After cracking down on drug trafficking being conducted through the ‘darknet’ recently, the NCB is set to freeze about 500 Bitcoins in the accounts of traffickers, the first ever seizure of the virtual, unregulated currency in a criminal probe in the country.
The central agency, the nodal department to combat drug trafficking and liaise with multiple narcotics control and enforcement agencies, has intervened and begun investigation against three syndicates in the country till now and in one case detected in western India, it is moving to seize Bitcoins.
Official sources said the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) is working on the legal aspects of the case to seize about 400-500 Bitcoins as part of its criminal investigation under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS) besides a few other laws.
“While criminal probe agencies have seized a variety of assets like cash and immovable assets in their respective investigations all these years, Bitcoins have never been frozen as part of the tainted assets seizure. Bitcoin is equivalent to about Rs 1 crore in the Indian currency. The NCB is moving in that direction,” sources in the agency said.
Officials, however, declined to disclose further details about the specific case which has been referred to the NCB headquarters for vetting. The case has also been reviewed by NCB Director General R.R. Bhatnagar.
The case pertains to the trafficking of drugs and narcotic supplements over the cryptic form of internet called ‘Darknet’ using the illegal payment method of Bitcoins to thwart detection by investigative agencies.
‘Darknet’ refers to the clandestine internet network which can only be accessed with specific software, configurations and authorisation and is difficult to track using usual communications protocols and ports, while Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency that allows consumers to make electronic transactions by skipping the legal banking channels.
NCB officials had earlier told PTI the syndicates interdicted by them were prima facie indulging in trafficking of party drugs.
Officials said use of these modern tools to deal in illict drug trading is a worrying development and the NCB has further widened its probe to look for such transactions happening within the country or with connections from foreign shores.
The NCB, during a review meeting with the Union Home Ministry officials, had said latest trends indicated that synthetic drugs were replacing natural and semi-synthetic products abused for several decades.
The latest report prepared by NCB said: “Despite strict controls and monitoring put in place for certain pharmaceutical products, there is evidence indicating their diversion for abuse.”
The emergence of ‘Darknet’ and Bitcoins is seen as an extension by anti-narcotics sleuths of the illegal internet pharmacies peddling drugs.
The online pharmacies transmit orders from customers to agents in India who then procure the medicines from either legitimate or illegitimate sources before dispatching them to customers by post or courier.
“Internet pharmacies are usually highly vulnerable and keep the identity if organisers tightly veiled,” a recent NCB report said.