Bull Run

The sprawling business network of an alleged cattle-smuggling kingpin

30 April, 2021

“OI DEKH, TAKA PORCHE, TAKA PORCHE!”—See, money is falling! Money is falling!

It was 6 November 2019, and a stunned crowd gathered under the MK Point building on Kolkata’s Bentinck Street as a shower of Rs 500 and Rs 2,000 notes rained down on them from the windows of an office high up in the building. Some people watched in shock, some took videos and some scrabbled, trying to grab some of the cash for themselves. As the crowd grew, the shower continued. Through the slats of a window, an arm wielding a floor wiper emerged and prodded bundles of cash off the ledge, where they had gotten stuck.

The building housed a number of offices. Among them, on the sixth and seventh floors, were those of the Hoque group of companies, which the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence was raiding that day. DRI officials later said that, when investigators arrived at the office, an office staffer was ordered to dispose of illicit cash by throwing it out of a window. The Times of India reported two weeks later that DRI officials said they had seized almost Rs 7 lakh from the office, whose owner, according to the report, “allegedly was involved in a cattle smuggling racket.” The raid, the story noted, “was part of an investigation into an alleged input tax credit fraud.”

The incident was startling enough for its sheer dramatic value. But it also offered a rare glimpse into India’s cattle smuggling networks. Cattle smuggling is often seen as a shadowy activity limited to border areas, a crime committed by small-time criminals. The Bentinck Street raid suggested that at least some players are comfortably ensconced in larger business networks.