The chase for gold smugglers from the northern borders has finally resulted in police seizing more than 77 kilogrammes (kg) of gold and arresting several men in the smuggling racket.

Police handed over the case to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) who has charged 10 men, in Paro court on June 13, for smuggling 52kg of gold biscuits amounting to Nu 151.664 million into the country from northern border.

Of the 10 men, ranging from 24-year-old to 61 years, eight are from Tsento gewog, Paro, and other two are from Drametse, Mongar and Toeb, Punakha.

OAG also charged five accused for criminal conspiracy and others for smuggling gold and solicitation.

Following a tip-off, police arrested five– Chencho Tobgye, Chencho Rinchen, Kipchu, Rinchen Khandu, all from Tsento, and Migmar Tshering, 24, from Toebesa on May 12 this year.

How it happened

Police found that defendant Chencho Tshering, 44, also from Tsento, had conspired to smuggle 52kg of gold from the Tibetan border of Jidola after an Tibetan contacted him, through WeChat, and offered to pay Nu 7,000 for carrying one kg of gold biscuit from the northern border to India.

Chencho Tshering allegedly hired and sent Rinchen Khando, Chencho Dorji 61, Gem Dorji, Dorji Tshering, all from Tsento and Rinzin Dorji from Drametse to Jidola to bring in 52kg of gold. He agreed to pay them Nu 30,000 each as carrying charge.

The five told Kipchu that they were going to the border to pick up the gold from a Tibetan. Following this, Kipchu and Rinchen Khandu hatched a plan and conspired to rob the gold from the Tibetan.

According to OAG’s charge-sheet, Rinchen Khandu had disclosed the date and time the Tibetan was supposed to come and hand over the gold at the border. Kipchu then colluded with his friends Migmar Tshering and Chencho Tobgye went ahead of the five men, sent by Chencho Tshering, and allegedly robbed the 52kg gold from two Tibetans. They then hid the gold at a place above the Tsekha army based camp.

Meanwhile, the five others returned empty-handed after the Tibetans failed to show up.

Smuggling and missing gold

After a month, Kipchu, Rinchen Khandu, Chencho Tobgye and Migmar Tshering returned to the site and took out 12kg gold biscuits. They hid the remaining 40kg at Sidulum.

Chencho Tobgye shared about the illegal act committed by them with his brother Chencho Rinchen. They then discreetly went to Sidulum, brought 15kg gold. Later, Chencho Rinchen went to the site and brought the remaining 25kg gold and hid at a different place, near Thongdo Zam.

After few months, Migmar Tshering and Kipchu suspecting something fishy went to Sidulum and found that 40kg gold was missing. They questioned Chencho Tobgye who accepted that he and his brother took 15kg gold, but said he had no clue about the remaining 25kg gold.

Chencho Rinchen told the investigators that he sold five kg of gold to an Indian based in Kolkata for Nu 14.583M. Based on his statement, police recovered 25kg gold hidden in Thongdo Zam and one kg gold from Migmar Tshering. Police also seized Nu 7.692M from three defendants and impounded a Toyata Hilux, a Suzuki Car, a Pulsar bike and a Creta car from Chencho Rinchen, Kipchu, and Chencho Tobgye.

The OAG also submitted before the court that the 26kg gold biscuits, Nu 7.692M and impounded vehicles to be confiscated as per the Penal Code. Police forwarded this case to the OAG on May 31.

Chencho Tshering, Gem Dorji and Rinchen Khandu were also being prosecuted in a separate gold smuggling case, for smuggling of 20kg of gold. The Royal Bhutan Army arrested the trio along with 20kg gold in December last year and handed over to the police.

Another six suspects to charge next week

Police also forwarded another smuggling case of 31kg of gold involving six men from Tsento to OAG on June 6. OAG officials said that they would charge them to the court next week.

However, OAG has yet to file three more gold cases that the police forwarded for prosecution on March 12. Customs officials at Paro International Airport caught two women and a man for allegedly smuggling more than three kg of gold into the country on January 30. The trio flew from Bangkok, Thailand on different flights.

A woman who had suspicious behaviour, upon noticing that she was being watched at the airport, entered the restroom. A lady custom officer who followed the woman found 2.174kg of gold dumped in the restroom’s dustbin. The other woman was caught carrying 600 grams of gold in a form of bangle.

The same day, customs officials found the man carrying 400 grams of gold when they frisked him.

According to Customs Rules and Regulations of Bhutan 2017, gold and silver in the form of coins, bars or bullion including jewellery in excess of the quantity mentioned -50 grams, shall require permit from the relevant agency and is subject to levy of customs duty.

“Bhutanese nationals or the non-Bhutanese national residing in Bhutan, on their return to Bhutan from any country by air shall be allowed only 50 grams of gold including jewellery,” it states.

Any import or export of gold or silver coins, bars or bullion, shall be carried out only with the prior approval of the Royal Monetary Authority, according to the Foreign Exchange Regulations, 2013.

Rinzin Wangchuk