Kolkata - Indian police said Wednesday they had arrested a senior regional official from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling party over alleged links to a trafficking scandal that saw children sold to foreign couples.
Investigators said children aged between six months and 14 years were sold in illegal adoptions to couples from Europe, America and Asia for between $12,000 and $23,000 and taken out of the country.
Police said they arrested Juhi Choudhury, a general secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the eastern state of West Bengal, late on Tuesday and charged her in connection with the case.
"She has been charged under several sections of the Indian penal code including cheating, trafficking and exploitation," said Rajesh Kumar, a director-general from the state's Criminal Investigation Department.
The head of the adoption centre at the heart of the scandal, Chandana Chakraborty, told investigators that Choudhury had been involved in child trafficking for several years.
Police arrested Chakraborty, a retired school principal, and her deputy Sonali Mondal last month after a tip-off from the federal adoption agency.
The pair ran the Bimala Sishu Griha centre where children were sold abroad to couples for as much as 1.5 million rupees ($23,000).
"At least 17 children were sold, with the children reportedly sent to France, the United States, Spain and Singapore," Kumar said.
Investigators said they had been monitoring the charity since June when child welfare authorities found discrepancies in their records and relocated all the children from one of the homes.
One said the accused ran health camps to identify poor and unmarried pregnant women and persuaded them to give up their babies for adoption after paying them.
It is unclear how the alleged sales escaped official notice.
India has an estimated 30 million orphans, but the rules governing international adoptions are strict and domestic adoptions remain relatively rare.
Experts say desperate couples wanting to adopt in India are often frustrated by lengthy bureaucratic delays and complex rules, pushing them towards the thriving illegal adoption market.
The latest scandal comes roughly four months after police arrested 18 people over a racket that saw gangs steal newborn babies from nursing homes with the intention of selling them.