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Smugglers used Amazon to transport marijuana by listing them as stevia leaves: MP Police

The e-commerce platform was allegedly used to sell marijuana worth ₹1 crore, prompting calls for an NCB probe.

Madhya Pradesh police on November 15 summoned Amazon India executives as part of an investigation into whether the platform was used for smuggling marijuana. According to a first information report seen by MediaNama, the Bhind district police last Saturday arrested two men with 21 kg of marijuana under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985. The drug was held in Amazon-branded packaging, the report stated.

This incident doesn’t bode well for the e-commerce giant as it already faces numerous challenges in India including an antitrust investigation by the Competition Commission of India, a legal battle with Future Retail, bribery allegations, and the proposed e-commerce rules that tighten the noose around e-commerce companies.

An Amazon spokesperson said that the company is investigating the incident and would give its full cooperation and support to the authorities.

What’s Amazon’s role?

Upon further inspection, the police found that smugglers used Amazon to order and deliver the drug to various states by listing the substance as dry stevia leaves (a natural food sweetener), Bhind Superintendent of Police Manoj Kumar Singh said according to Reuters. The Amazon platform was allegedly used for 1,000 kgs of marijuana sales worth over ₹1 crore so far, Singh added.

“There is involvement of Amazon at many levels in this marijuana delivery – from providing logistical support to delivery.” – SP Manoj Singh

The smugglers ran a company under a fake name with PAN and GST number and sourced the marijuana from Visakhapatnam and transported it to Gwalior, Bhopal, Kota, Agra, and other cities using Amazon’s logistics, Singh explained.

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According to Economic Times, Singh also alleged that Amazon got 66 percent commission from the illicit business, but there is no clarity on where this figure comes from.

The police also visited one of Amazon’s delivery hubs in Gwalior in connection to this case. In a press statement, the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT), which has been battling Amazon and Flipkart on multiple fronts for years now, alleged that over 380 packets of marijuana camouflaged as kadi patta (curry leaves), was sold and fulfilled from a warehouse located in Gwalior. CAIT has urged the government to conduct searches for similar stock at other warehouses of Amazon.

Amazon’s lawyers are expected to visit the police today with regards to the company’s involvement, Singh said.

Amazon’s response

“Amazon operates a marketplace in India (amazon.in), which enables third-party sellers to display, list and offer for sale, products to end-customers directly. Amazon has a high bar on compliance and contractually our sellers are required to comply with all applicable laws for selling their products on amazon.in. We do not allow the listing and sale of products which are prohibited under law to be sold in India. However, in case sellers list such products, as an intermediary, we take strict action as may be required under the law, when the same is highlighted to us. The issue was notified to us and we are currently investigating it whether there is any non-compliance on part of the seller. We assure full co-operation and support required to Investigating Authorities and Law Enforcement agencies with ongoing investigations and ensure full compliance to applicable laws.” – Amazon spokesperson

CAIT demands NCB probe and action against company’s officials

CAIT has demanded that the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) investigate Amazon’s involvement in the case in addition to Madhya Pradesh police. The trader body also asked Home Minister Amit Shah and Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan to intervene and ensure that the issue does “not go in the air.”

“It is a serious threat to the security of the country in view of the fact that likewise even illegal arms or other illegal activities can also be conducted,” CAIT said in its press statement.

“In the present case, Amazon has not only allowed the use of its platform for the sale of commercial quantity of banned drug, but, has actively participated in the sale and earned huge profit to the tune of 66% of the sale value,” CAIT said while asking for the strictest action be taken against the platform and its top management under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act.

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CAIT also questioned why Amazon could not use its artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) capabilities to detect the sale of illegal substances and insisted that the company should not be given any safe harbor provisions under the IT Act.

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