A former model and air-hostess, Sangeeta Chatterjee (25), was Wednesday arrested by the Chittoor police from her apartment in Kolkata for allegedly being part of a country-wide red sanders smuggling network.
Officials alleged that Sangeeta was the girlfriend of a notorious international red sanders smuggler, Markondan Lakshman alias Lakshman Dange alias Tamang. Lakshman was arrested in 2014 by the Chittoor police from Nepal.
Lakshman’s interrogation and further probe by the Chittoor police revealed that not only did Sangeeta know about his smuggling activities, she allegedly played a major role in helping him expand it by establishing contacts with smugglers in Mumbai, Chennai, Bengaluru and Kolkata.
The 25-year-old resides in Kolkata and has properties in Netaji Nagar. As the special investigation team of Chittoor police produced her at a Kolkata Court to get a transit warrant, she was granted interim bail and told to appear before the Chittoor court on May 18.
According to officials, Sangeeta helped in smuggling out of the country, red sanders that came from Andhra Pradesh. They added that she lied low for some time after Lakshman’s arrest, but the police got on her trail after she recently moved nearly Rs 10 crore allegedly through the hawala route. She had also moved nearly Rs one crore to nine bank accounts belonging to her, claimed officials.
Moving in to arrest her, police seized her bank accounts, sealed four flats owned by her, and took possession of hundreds of documents relating to properties elsewhere.
“She helped Lakshman establish a huge network across India to move red sanders. Lakshman has contacts in Myanmar and that is where the red sanders is finally moved to. They amassed crores in the process in the last few years and Sangeeta also made millions. She studied up to SSC and became a model in TV commercials and later did some course and became an air hostess. She came in contact with Lakshman in Kolkata, where he frequently used to stay as he had established a base there too. She helped him make contact with ‘agents’ in several cities across India who would join the network to smuggle the red sanders logs out of the country. She also knew where Lakshman’s godowns were located,’’ said Chittoor SP C Srinivas.
Lakshman, who hails from Manipur, was settled in Chennai where he had a wife. Till his arrest in July 2014, he was considered the biggest smuggler involved in felling of red sandalwood trees in the forests of Chittoor, Kurnool and Kadapa districts.
“Even as we arrested her and were in the process of applying for a transit warrant, a team of nearly 20 lawyers hired by her descended at the court and created chaos, and applied for bail on her behalf. In the meantime, Sangeeta feigned sick and was admitted to a hospital where doctors discharged her immediately saying she was in perfect health. By that time the court also granted her interim bail with the condition that she will appear before a court in Chittoor on or before May 18,’’ said Chittoor DSP C Giridhar, who has been camping in Kolkata.