NEW DELHI - Six members of a suspected international smuggling racket were arrested with an estimated US$15 million (S$20.2 million) worth of snake venom hidden in school bags close to the Bhutan border in eastern India, officials said.
The suspects were riding two motorbikes and carrying school bags containing three bullet-proof glass containers of the venom when they were arrested by police on Saturday in the Baikunthpur forest area of Jalpaiguri district in West Bengal.
"This haul is worth at least 100 crore (S$20.2 million) on the international market. There are three different containers with venom in liquid form, white crystals and yellow granule form," Mr P.R. Pradhan of the Baikunthpur forest division said yesterday.
The glass containers were stamped with the wording "Made in France", Mr Pradhan said, adding that the arrested men claimed the consignment may have arrived from France before they picked it up from Bangladesh for delivery in Bhutan.
The venom is believed to be from cobras but chemical tests are being conducted to identify the snake species, he said.
Jalpaiguri police chief Akash Meghariya said the suspects are being questioned about their links to an international syndicate. They were arrested under the Wildlife Protection Act which bans the extraction of venom from protected snake species, including cobras, Mr Meghariya added.
Under Indian law, the "milking" of many other snake species is allowed.
Extracted venom is mostly used as an antidote for snake bites, which according to World Health Organisation kill an estimated half a million people globally every year. Snake venom is also used in some cosmetics.