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Destroyed contraceptive contraband was a WHO gift to Pakistan

2013 Oct 28

by Manjula Fernando

Three 40 ft. containers of potatoes in the Orugodawatte yard were detained in April by the Customs Revenue Task Force on suspicion and an inspection of the containers was carried out.

The smuggled vials of birth control drug being destroyed while officers involved in the case look on.

The vials being emptied on to a polythene sheet to be destroyed.

In the last container, the customs officers found a large contraband of contraceptive vials, the biggest ever detection of the kind. Dumped in gunny bags under unhygienic conditions were a total of 30,000 Depo Provera vials. "It was valued at Rs. 30 million," Deputy Director RTF, Mali Piyasena said.

This was how the lid was blown off a racket that involved free contraceptive vials provided to Pakistani health authorities by the World Health Organisation.

The revelation was made when the investigating officers in Sri Lanka invited the Asia representative of the pharmaceutical company that produce Depo Provera drug, to trace the contraband.

"The Asia Representative was based in New Delhi and we called him to identify the contraband. We wanted to trace the other people involved in this big racket," Customs Superintendent G.B. Gnanaraj said. The serial numbers on the vials indicated that these were manufactured by his company for the WHO. It was for free administration to women in Pakistan.

With the latest revelation the Customs officers tightened the noose to apprehend the smuggler of the contraband.

The Pakistani national, Mohammed Ashroff, in his 50s, who imported the consignment of potatoes under a company - Imaan International, Battaramulla - registered with the Sri Lanka Registrar of Companies was absconding. He was neither at his company in Battaramulla nor at the other two addresses provided to the Customs, at the Pettah or Slave Island either.

It was the first time such a huge consignment of contraceptive vials were detected by the Sri Lanka customs. Earlier, the Customs officers thwarted several attempts to smuggle in the particular prescription drug concealed in luggage carried by passengers at Bandaranaike International Airport.

The search continued for eight days. When everything failed the customs set a decoy. A person known to the Pakistani smuggler was used to lure him out of hiding. As a result the man was brought to Fort Railway Station last May and arrested.

"We produced him in court and got him remanded for two months pending the inquiry. We did not want him to vanish again," Piyasena said.

In the Customs inquiry the smuggler was fined Rs. 500,000 by the Customs and has been blacklisted. The Pakistani national cannot import or export anything via Sri Lanka Customs in the future.

However, the story does not end there. The Customs could not trace the man to whom the hazardous drug was to be handed over. Ashroff had revealed that he was supposed to give them to another Pakistani. But week long efforts to trace this second suspect had failed.

The Customs believe the man could have escaped to Pakistan. The detection is another feather in the cap for Customs Department but it may not end such contraband from arriving and reaching private clinics in Sri Lanka.

The officer said if released undetected these contraceptives may have ended up at private medical clinics run legally or illegally.

The danger is these vials imported under extreme conditions (not in freezer containers) have no use, thus do not stop Sri Lankan women from unwanted pregnancies. Moreover, it could be hazardous to the health, affecting kidneys among other complications.

Depo-Provera injection contains the active ingredient medroxyprogesterone acetate, which is a synthetic form of the naturally occurring female sex hormone, progesterone. It is used in Sri Lanka as a long term form of birth control and to treat other gynaecological conditions. The Customs Revenue Task Force Officers destroyed the contraband of contraceptive vials last week.

Customs Director Mali Piyasena, Deputy Directors S. Edirimanna and P. Chandraratne, Superintendents G.B. Gnanaraj, S. Jayakody, K. Randeniya and B. Basnayake, Deputy Superintendents C. Fernando and N. Ariyapala were involved in the detection, investigations and the inquiry. 

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