Believe it or not, the ED has attached three chimpanzees and four marmosets as part of a money laundering probe against a wildlife smuggler of West Bengal.
The central agency, which probes serious money laundering crimes, said the chimpanzees that were seized by customs from the smuggler's house were being kept at the Alipore Zoological Garden in Kolkata.
They have become a major attraction for visitors and hence, a source of revenue too, it said, adding that the marmosets were being kept at an animal shelter.
The agency said the first-of-its-kind attachment under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) "enabled" the zoo authorities to retain the animals as the smuggler was making attempts to take them away.
An attachment by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) renders an asset out of bounds for its owner and it can be further confiscated by the agency after the Adjudicating Authority of the PMLA, a quasi-judicial body, approves the attachment within 180 days.
The agency said the seven animals are valued at Rs 81 lakh, with each chimpanzee worth Rs 25 lakh and a marmoset, a species of small long-tailed South American monkeys, about Rs 1.5 lakh.
The case pertains to West Bengal government's complaint against alleged smuggler Supradip Guha for "illegal possession" of wild animals.
The ED said the state police had booked Guha for "forgery and using forged documents as genuine as he was found using a forged permission letter to illegally transport the wildlife birds purportedly issued by the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Wild Life and Chief Wildlife Warden, West Bengal."
It took over the case under PMLA based on this police FIR. The ED said its probe found Guha was "running an organised wildlife smuggling racket".
He is a clever criminal and recorded contradictory statements before the customs authorities and wildlife authorities to evade action from both the departments, it alleged.
Guha also obtained fake certificates regarding birth of the three chimpanzees in India, ED said. "This attachment has enabled the zoo authorities to keep the animals with them. The action by the ED will deter dealers against indulging in illegal trade of animals and wildlife," it said.