Malaysian carrying live human embryos detained at Indian airport

The man said that he was transporting the embryo to a fertility clinic in the city and that he was doing this for the seventh or eighth time

Photo: YouTube screengrab

Mumbai—A Malaysian national has been detained at the Mumbai International Airport after it was discovered that he was carrying live human embryos inside a canister. Authorities found the canister to be suspicious-looking. The man said that he was transporting the embryo to a fertility clinic in the city.

Indian officials said that they apprehended Partheban Durai on March 16. The Malaysian acknowledged that it was not the first time he had illegally brought in this type of material into India. He told authorities it may actually be his seventh or eighth time.

The man named the clinic where he is supposed to be bringing the human embryos—Indo Nippon IVF clinic in Bandra—and led the authorities there.

Legal representatives for Dr Goral Gandhi, the clinic’s scientific and laboratory director, denied the Malaysian’s accusations. They allege that Dr Gandhi is the victim of a set-up.

Dr Gandhi refuted Mr Durai’s claims and brought the situation before the Bombay High Court. On Monday, March 18, the Court asked India’s Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) to withhold from taking action against her until April 3.

However, the embryologist will undergo a court-ordered interview on Friday, March 22.

Embryos can only be imported into India with a permit and clearance from the Indian Council of Medical Research, and are usually for research purposes only. The customs’ laws of the country has prohibited importing human embryos since 2015.

In vitro fertilisation (IVF) has become more and more popular in India. It involves the process of fertilisation wherein the egg is combined with sperm outside of the mother’s body. Embryos—or eggs that have already been fertilised—may be frozen for long periods of time. Sometimes these embryos are donated to couples who are unable to have children on their own.

In Malaysia, Islamic law forbids surrogacy.

It is believed, however, that infertile Malaysian couples are sending their embryos to India for illegal surrogacy. The Lek Sabha passed the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill in 2018, wherein altruistic surrogacy is permitted but altruistic surrogacy is forbidden.

The DRI has searched Dr Gandhi’s office in connection with the investigation on smuggled embryos.

An official from the DRI told the Indian Express that it “searched the office premises of the IVF centre and recovered incriminating documents related to the smuggling of embryos”.

According to Sujay Kantawala, Dr Gandhi’s lawyer, “It was submitted before the High Court that on March 15, at least 7 to 8 DRI officials reached the Bandra clinic and conducted searches for over four hours. The CCTV was switched off during the period. While documents were taken from the clinic and a spot inventory done, copies were not given to her.”

He said that the set-up is “a conspiracy hatched by persons which may include competitors”.

He also claims that on March 14 the DRI called Dr Gandhi, alleging that she had told the Malaysian national to bring the embryos to India. “She denied the allegation following which the officials went to search her clinic on March 15.”

The lawyer for Mr Durai, Ravi Hirani, said, “Durai has been detained for the past few days but was placed under arrest only today. The Malaysian Embassy has asked me to pursue the case.”

According to the website of Indo Nippon IVF, “Our clients are our priority, we offer quality IVF services with a team of specialists. More details about our services below.

At Indo Nippon IVF, we work hand-in-hand with you to make every phase of the process — from diagnosis to treatment– as predictable and comfortable as possible. Together we will map out a plan to determine the cause of your infertility and an appropriate course of action. Many problems can easily be corrected with medication or surgical procedures.”