The Pietermaritzburg nurse who was arrested in India last month after a bullet was found in her luggage may have been the victim of a plot to frame travellers.
Ishra Lutchman’s legal representation maintained that she was set up and that “vulture” lawyers lurking at the airport were “suspicious”.
It has emerged there are other travellers who have had similar experiences when passing through the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi. They, too, say they do not know how single bullets came to be in their luggage.
In 2012, the High Court of New Delhi ruled in favour of a Malaysian man charged with the same crime as Lutchman – contravening India’s Firearms Act.
A Nottingham Road engineering graduate in his twenties is stuck in India after being arrested for the same alleged crime at the airport in December.
Imran Hussein’s family did not want to give details, saying that negotiations to get him home were at a “sensitive stage”.
“We don’t want to jeopardise him. Mrs Lutchman is an adult – it was easier for her… Imran is just a laatjie. We must be very careful,” a family spokesman said.
At the time of Lutchman’s arrest, her husband, Gangaparsad, said he believed the bullet was planted.
Rumen Maistry, a South African advocate assisting Lutchman, and her advocate in India said they had told the court during the bail application that their client had been framed.
“She has no background in dealing with firearms, and her bag did not leave her possession except at the airport.
Maistry claimed that lawyers at the airport had contracts drawn up and ready to present to victims for their signature.
Last year, Irene Mathias, a Canadian grandmother visiting family in India, was arrested and charged with arms smuggling after live ammunition was found in her luggage at Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport.
Her son, Trayson, told journalists from Canada’s Toronto Star that the 59-year-old, who works for the Canada Revenue Agency, was an unlikely arms smuggler.
“She’s a woman who loves her church, volunteering in her community and cooking for her family.”
Charges against Mathias were dropped in September with the judge, in his acquittal, saying the government had failed to prove she had placed the ammunition in her unlocked bag.
Rafael Hubbard, a Canadian pilot who was arrested in 2011, told The Mercury he did not know how a bullet ended up in his luggage. He had only theories as to why it had been there.
Asked why planting a bullet was the chosen modus operandi, he said: “A bullet is very small and is easy to slip into someone’s clothes or bag, but it can cause so much damage because it is against the Firearms’ Act. It is 100 percent detectable by the X-ray machines.”
Hubbard said detection “started the ball rolling” in a “restraining process” full of “red tape”. Hubbard was released on bail. His case has not been finalised.
Chan Hong Saik, a Malaysian Buddhist who travelled to India in 2011 on pilgrimage, was arrested for having a bullet in his bag. His charges were quashed in 2012.
His counsel told the court that after reaching the Indira Gandhi International Airport and collecting his boarding pass, Saik reached the immigration point and was cleared. He was then cleared at the check counter after his luggage was screened.
According to a court document, he was “shocked and surprised” when, after rechecking his bag, the bullet was found.
In dismissing the charges, the court said Saik was framed.
Although Indian police from the Central Industrial Security Force did not respond to questions sent by The Mercury, Imber Hider, head of airport security, said such cases of ammunition found in luggage were few and far between and all were genuine.