The police have seized 25 lakh masks worth Rs 14 crore from two godowns, one of them close to the air cargo area of the international terminal of the airport, and arrested four people under the Essential Commodities Act.
Acting on a tipoff, the police raided the godown near the airport late on Monday night and caught three men packing and storing the masks in boxes.
During their questioning, the three — Balaji Nadar, Shahrukh Shaikh and Ghulam Murtuza — spilled the beans on the operation’s five “partners”. Based on this, the police arrested one of the partners, Mihir Patel, and are on the lookout for the rest. Early on Tuesday morning, the police raided another godown, in Bhiwandi, and seized a second lot of masks.
“We had been working on the (airport godown) tipoff for two days before conducting the successful raid,” said Mahesh Desai, senior inspector of crime branch’s unit nine. Police commissioner Parambir Singh put the total value of the seized masks at Rs 14 crore.
The police said the kingpins of the racket wanted to smuggle the masks out, and when they couldn’t — owing to flight and other restrictions — they decided to hoard the supply to sell at a premium, taking advantage of the shortage of masks in the market. “They wanted to sell in black,” said DCP Akbar Pathan. The aim was to sell the ordinary masks, which come for Rs 7 apiece, for Rs 20, and N95 masks, which cost Rs 175-225, for Rs 400 apiece.