Drug Smugglers Have Started Coating Liquorice in Heroin

Police discovered one of their biggest drug hauls hidden in a bag of liquorice root, as heroin seizures soar in India.
Max Daly
London, GB
india heroin liquorice
Police guard the container of heroin covered liquorice at Nhava Sheva port in Mumbai, India. Photos: Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times/Getty Images.

One of India’s biggest ever seizures of heroin was found in a shipment of liquorice root, which had been left sitting at a port for 15 months before it was discovered, police have revealed. 

In June last year a two-ton shipment of liquorice root from Iran was detained by the Mumbai port authorities on India’s west coast over paperwork. 

But on Wednesday police said that a tip-off alerted them to the fact the container full of liquorice being held at Nhava Sheva port was coated with 345kg of heroin – believed to be India’s second largest ever haul of the drug.


In April police found boxes of liquorice root containing 102kg of heroin in Amritsar, Punjab state.

This week’s seizure is one of an unprecedented string of large heroin finds at ports in India over the last 12 months.

In September last year, police found what is thought to be the largest heroin haul ever in India when they discovered three tons of the drug concealed in a consignment of talc stone at Mundra port in Gujarat, a state on India’s west coast. This was almost as much as the total amount of heroin seized – 3.8 tons – in India during the whole of 2020, a year when the country seized the fourth highest amount of heroin globally. 

Experts believe the rise in seaport seizures is the result of increased land border security between Pakistan and India, the most common path for heroin trafficked on the ‘southern route’ out of Afghanistan to south Asia, east Africa and the Middle East. 

Lead investigator HGS Dhaliwal said the shipment of liquorice was ordered by an Afghan national based in Pakistan through a shipping company in Dubai.


“It was lying at the port for 15 months with many other detained consignments. No one knew about its heroin coating,” he revealed. Dhaliwal said police were informed about the heroin by members of an Indian-based Afghani drug syndicate who two weeks before had been arrested for 312kg of methamphetamine.  

According to this year’s UN World Drug Report, India is one of the world’s largest opiate markets in terms of users. Heroin addiction is a big problem in Punjab state, which borders Pakistan. Doctors estimated in 2015 that there were around 200,000 people addicted to heroin in the state.   

A study published in February into heroin trafficking in the region by researchers at Gujarat Forensic Sciences University said the although the majority of heroin is trafficked by land and air over the Indo-Pakistan border, “smugglers are alternatively using sea routes for this purpose due to an increase in border security and presence of hide-aways in coastal areas.”