A man travelling from Malaysia has been caught at Mumbai airport attempting to smuggle a live human embryo in his suitcase to a fertility clinic in India.
The man, named Partheban Durai, admitted to smuggling embryos to the Indo Nippon IVF clinic in Mumbai multiple times in an 18-month period, the Times of India reports. Durai was detained at the airport by India's Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) on 16 March. The following day, Durai participated in a sting operation in which he delivered the canister under DRI surveillance to the clinic founder and laboratory director, Dr Goral Gandhi.
'Durai sent images of [his] hotel to his handlers as proof that everything was happening as planned,' a DRI official told the Times of India. 'He was asked to deliver the embryo to Indo Nippon clinic, Gandhi received him and collected the canister.'
The clinic is now being investigated for its alleged role in a smuggling ring. Dr Gandhi denies the clinic has any such involvement.
'Dr Gandhi does not import embryos as part of her business,' Sujay Kantawala, a lawyer representing Dr Gandhi, told Mumbai's High Court, BBC News reported. The lawyer blamed 'a conspiracy hatched by persons which may include competitors', the Indian Express reported.
Rebecca Gonsalves, an investigator at the DRI, told the court that text messages were found on Durai's phone suggesting that the clinic was the intended place of delivery.
Durai, who is a Malaysian national, claimed to work for Heart to ART in Malaysia, a surrogacy agency which the DRI believe is illegally exporting embryos. After searching the IVF centre, the DRI reported they had recovered further evidence of illegal involvement with fertility organisations in Malaysia.
The DRI has said it suspects that Malaysian couples are exporting embryos for surrogacy to India, as the practice is forbidden by Islamic law in Malaysia. However, India's Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill 2016 was passed in December, prohibiting commercial surrogacy and only allowing altruistic surrogacy among close relatives (see BioNews 982). Foreigners and non-resident Indian citizens are banned from seeking surrogacy arrangements in the country.
The import of embryos to India is also banned, except for research purposes, and a certificate is required from the Indian Council of Medical Research to bring embryos into India, which Durai was unable to provide.
A Mumbai High Court hearing is set to take place on 3 April.