Interview: How a Swedish model exposed Goa’s drug dealing cops

Swedish model Lucky Mångårda Amori went to Bollywood to act, but first she directed a real-life Indian crime drama. Paul O’Mahony meets the former reality TV show contestant who trained a camera on the police and captured corruption on an epic scale.

Interview: How a Swedish model exposed Goa's drug dealing cops
Photo: Lucky Mångårda Amori

A single click of the mouse will expose the cops as robbers. Lucky Mångårda Amori knows that she could be seconds away from sabotaging her love life and potentially putting her life in danger.

It’s March 2008. The Swedish fashion model has just turned 32 and is relieved to be back in Stockholm, far from her new home in Goa, India’s tainted tourist paradise.

She surfs the internet for the latest news on Scarlett Keeling, the British teenager found raped and murdered three weeks earlier on a beach at Anjuna, the same resort where Lucky first met the man she now calls her husband. She finds a clip of an Indian television news report and watches with disgust as Goa’s moralizing home minister heaps abuse on the dead girl’s mother.

The minister’s outburst is inexcusable. Lucky sees it as a ploy to deflect attention from a deliberately botched police investigation. By the time the clip is over she has made up her mind. Hooked up to her computer is a hard disk primed with explosive video material. She reaches for the mouse and pushes the button.

“I uploaded the first video. The footage, filmed at my house, provided proof that police officers in Goa were selling confiscated narcotics back onto the drug market. The video was removed from YouTube three days after I posted it but it had been up for long enough to cause a stir,” she tells The Local.

In the days and weeks that followed she continued discharging copies of her recordings onto the internet, making sure to replace any that were deleted. When local media outlets latched on to the videos, a police force mired in vice was left with little option but to take action.

An internal probe was launched that eventually led to the arrests this spring of seven members of the Goan police force’s Anti-Narcotics Cell. Lucky’s lover, Yaniv ‘Atala’ Benaim Amori, was whisked off to a regional remand centre where he is still being held. The case has not yet led to any criminal convictions.

While Lucky was uploading her incriminating material, Scarlett Keeling’s mother, Fiona MacKeown, was conducting her own investigations. She wrote to Lucky thanking her for helping expose the Goan police. Lucky knew that police officials had initially attempted to classify the 15-year-old’s murder as an accidental drowning.

“Fiona was convinced that the Goan police had deliberately hampered the investigation into the murder of her daughter in order to protect their own interests. I had seen enough to know that she was probably right.”

Days after receiving her first piece of UK correspondence, Lucky was contacted by the family of Stephen Bennett. In December 2006, the body of the 40-year-old Briton was found hanging from a mango tree in a remote Goan village. The police claimed Bennett had committed suicide but a post-mortem examination showed he had been badly beaten and strangled.

“I knew nothing about the Stephen Bennett murder before putting up the videos. But when I looked into it I saw that the people whose names kept cropping up in both cases – the son of a top politician and his gang of dirty cops – were the very same people I was having to avoid in my own home.”

Lucky is itching to fill in more gaps for Indian police investigators but says she is still awaiting a formal request to provide them with a statement.

“The police claim they want to speak to me but I’m sure they’d rather I disappeared. My husband has threatened to kill me. But I can assure them both that I’m still very much alive. Everyone in Goa knows how the police operate; I just wish more people were brave enough to do something about it.”

Nursing a pot of tea in a Stockholm café, she looks every bit the returned traveller. Her long floral skirt, silver sandals and pink nail varnish add a splash of tropical colour to a rainy day in the Swedish capital.

Lucky recalls how she left Goa for good shortly after lighting the fuse. She had her fill of venomous phone calls (“presumably from the police”) and watching over a husband in freefall.

She moved to Mumbai, a city she loves. Embracing the ever-present chaos, She spends her work days posing for ad shoots or filling minor roles in Bollywood blockbusters. But she’s at her most passionate behind the viewfinder, a fact the Goan police discovered too late. When the last scenes have been shot and her acting colleagues melt back into the city, the brown-eyed Swede prefers to stick around and document life behind the scenes.

“Photography is something I’d like to work with more in the future. I can’t stay modelling forever. I mean, how many 50-year-old models are there out there?”

She’s not quite at that stage yet. Born in 1976, she was given the name Linda by parents later deemed unfit to care for her. The troubled family moved home regularly, as Linda and her younger brother got to know Stockholm well through being shunted from suburb to suburb. But just as she was about to hit her teen years, the moving stopped and she and her brother were assigned to separate foster families. Both parents died of cancer soon afterwards.

Last year Lucky learned that she also has an older brother who had been put up for adoption at birth. But she maintains very little contact with her younger brother and has not sought out her older sibling.

“I changed my name as soon as I could. I liked the sound of Lucky Nova Mångårda.”

Leaving school with a new identity, Lucky began the business of carving out a life. She modelled, took occasional acting jobs and became a minor celebrity in 2000 when she entered the ill-tempered fray of Villa Medusa, a Swedish reality TV show that pitted housemates against each other in exotic environments. It’s not an experience she’d care to repeat.

Her life tumbled along at an unremarkable pace until November 2006, when she headed to Goa on the recommendation of friends. She travelled alone to the coastal state and rented a room from an Indian family in Anjuna. Shunning the resort’s all-night beach parties and drug-fuelled hedonism, she would set off at dawn to explore the area and snap photos until her memory card could take no more.

Across the road from her host family’s house lay her sole link to the outside world: Atala Coffee House, an internet café and bar. Locals knew its owner to be a drug dealer who was in India illegally after his deportation in 2006 for possession of narcotics. But to the new girl in town, the handsome tattooed Israeli quickly became the main neighbourhood attraction.

“I started going over to his place and we fell into conversation. For me it was love at first sight.”

It didn’t take her long to figure out that Atala had criminal baggage. But as they lay on the beach and hung out with his friends, it seemed his troubles were behind him.

“Those first months were fantastic. It was low season in Goa and there were very few tourists about, which of course meant there was no one to sell drugs to. He just worked in the bar when we weren’t spending time together. We were married within a matter of months.”

The couple pledged to spend their lives together at an informal marriage ceremony. Though the contract lacked paperwork, for Lucky it was the real deal.

But as 2007 drew to a close, Atala re-adapted to Goa’s high season rhythms. While on a three-month trip to Sweden, Lucky received a phone call from one of Atala’s friends warning her to expect the worst. Returning on New Year’s Day to the couple’s rented house in the small town of Siolim, she was horrified by what she found.

“He was completely emaciated. He was openly smoking cocaine through a bong and was making no attempt to hide it from the neighbours or anybody else. His personality was just unrecognizable. He was in such bad shape that the cleaning lady and I locked him indoors for two whole days to try to get him to eat something. But nothing helped.”

Suddenly, Lucky’s new world was collapsing all around her. It was now she discovered that Atala lacked a visa, shattering her dream of buying a house and settling down. The couple bickered incessantly as Lucky fumed at the constant stream of people now calling to their house.

She learned to stop listening when he spoke of his drug dealing exploits. But her interest was piqued when Atala began crowing that their daily guests were state policemen. Worse still, he boasted of buying his drugs from them.

“I refused to believe him at first. They wore civilian clothes and I thought they were just petty thieves. But after a while I realized Atala was telling the truth. We had the same cops coming to our house every single day. With them was this politician’s son, or ‘boss’ as Atala called him.”

Appalled by the magnitude of the ethical breach, Lucky pleaded with Atala to erect surveillance cameras in their home and at his bar. If nothing else, she hoped the cameras would act as a deterrent. Atala consented. While he enjoyed consorting with the big boys, he also resented paying the bribes Lucky claims they demanded from all local bar owners.

“We set up one of my cameras to record but it actually didn’t deter them in the slightest. I think the cops were so used to seeing my cameras lying around that they didn’t give this one a second thought.”

Lucky was fast running out of patience with Atala. She was outraged when he began informing on his Israeli friends who, deeply distrustful of his new pals, had severed all connections. As Atala’s relationship with the crooked officers deepened, he pushed for the pair to call off their spy cam operation. But Lucky kept her lenses in focus.

“His friends all think I did the right thing going public, even the ones with criminal tendencies. Atala was furious of course but to be honest I think he’s better off in custody. At least there he can’t destroy himself with drugs.”

Lucky’s voice takes on a wistful note when speaking about the man she married. She misses him but doesn’t believe he’ll ever recover from the war he has waged on his own body and mind.

“I don’t feel any guilt about Atala. In fact, I think posting the videos might even have saved his life. Otherwise the corrupt cops could have tried to get rid of him. He was the one who knew too much about the officers selling confiscated narcotics. Now everyone knows.”


Opinion: Sweden and India – the many flavours of two thriving democracies

Rupali Mehra compares the flavours of Swedish elections to those in her home country India. Are there any similarities in the democratic process of the two countries?

Opinion: Sweden and India – the many flavours of two thriving democracies
Swedish voters look at election campaign posters in Södertälje. Photo: Stina Stjernkvist/TT

In India you don't need a pundit to tell you a political contender will soon be in your vicinity. You can feel them coming a mile away.

SUVs with loudspeakers, blaring slogans from a political party or playing patriotic Bollywood songs alternatively, precede the political procession that is to come.

Indian elections are not called the world's largest democratic exercise for nothing. While the numbers game is the obvious correlation – considering we are talking of 850 million eligible voters – the overwhelming scale of Indian election truly plays out on its streets.

Canvassing in India for the national elections has a festive fever around it. A heady, contagious festive fever that you cannot escape from. Every emotion is heightened; the cheers, the jeers, the anger and the joy; even fist fights and the hugs of bonhomie. And all of this plays out in the public domain.

Elections in a country of 1.3 billion, to choose 543 women and men as their executives, is similar to “a big fat Indian wedding”, as a journalist friend put it. Having covered three national elections over 15 years and several federal elections, I couldn't agree more. Only that it is a “big fat Indian wedding” of 850 million invitees and the infinite complexities that come with it.

READ ALSO: How to vote in the 2018 Swedish election (even if you're not a citizen)

Indian voters wave at Prime Minister Narendra Modi at an election rally. Photo: AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi

Sitting 3,500 miles away in Sweden, I am witnessing another democratic exercise. An election that is similar in the mechanics, yet so different in its manifestation.

Sweden votes in less than 24 hours. But if you are new here or a visitor, you can't be faulted for thinking polls are a while away. “It doesn't feel like there is a national election on in Sweden,” remarks the journalist friend from India who finds herself in Stockholm in the midst of val, as elections are known here. The comment on the 'feel factor' is telling. Unless you regularly tune into televised political debates and the track the weekly opinion polls as the Swedes do, the atmosphere on the street feels like the tempo is just about building.

Canvassing and public engagement are far more nuanced than you see in India. Parties have designated areas to set up their counters, and volunteers gently approach you to discuss their manifesto. Even public speeches like those at Medborgarplatsen, with supporters wearing the party symbol loud and clear on their sleeve, caps and t-shirts, seem mild when compared to a candidate arriving in a helicopter to address supporters in India.

To a Swede who faces posters of political leaders at every second bus stop and tube station to work, and then arrives home to find their mail boxes filled with political pamphlets, the feeling can be overwhelming. Surely, there will be a sigh of relief when its all over. But for someone seeped in the technicolour of Indian elections, the Swedish polls appear monochromatic.

This, despite the fact that 2018 has been one of most hotly contested elections and the fight is predicted to go down to the wire.

ELECTION VOCABULARY: How to talk about politics like a Swede

Prime Minister Stefan Löfven meeting voters in Linköping the day before the election. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

To give the analogy of food, Indian elections are akin to a red hot Indian curry; each spoonful offers a burst of multiple flavours and spices. For some it is a treat. For others it is hard to stomach. In comparison Swedish food, although flavoursome, is more mellow. Similarly for the elections.

But first impressions aside, scratch the surface and one finds that several issues strike a similar cord among the people in both countries. The most obvious is immigration. Historically Sweden has had immigrants come in during the Baltic wars, the Afghan war, the Iranian revolution and even as far back as World War II. But the influx of 2015, largely from war-torn Syria, is the most volatile and polarised talking point of 2018. Similarly in India, immigration from neighbouring Bangladesh that has been a constant for decades, is now a hotly debated issue.

Politics on immigration aside, there are other bread and butter issues that citizens vote on. These are issues that affect citizens in their day to day life. Issues like housing, water, jobs and transport. According to the country's National Housing Board (Boverket) Sweden faces a housing shortage in 255 of its 290 municipalities. Buying a house in Stockholm or Gothenburg is out of reach for many. It is a similar story in India's financial capital Mumbai, where the per-square-foot prices compares with the world's most expensive cities. This even as the city has an inventory of half a million vacant houses, according to India's Economic Survey.

READ ALSO: Follow The Local's coverage of the 2018 Swedish election

Away from the big cities, towns and rural areas face similar issues of water, transport, schools and hospitals. While a taluk (a block of villages) in interior India could be struggling to get a school for their children, a locality in a Swedish countryside could be struggling to keep open a school for the lack of enough students. What differs is the complexion, scale and extremities.

One could argue that we are comparing apples to oranges here. But that is what democracies are all about. Different in flavour, yet similar in nature.

Rupali Mehra is a former television editor and anchor. She moved from India in the spring of 2017 and runs a communications company in Sweden. She can be reached at [email protected]