Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) is investigating alleged corruption related to bribery and other practices at the Mini Dry Port (MDP) and truck parking (temporary) port in Phuentsholing.
Officials and staff from law enforcement agencies such as the customs, RBP, BAFRA, desuups, and private agencies such as the clearing agents, importers, and loaders are being investigated.
Kuensel has learned that a few officials from a law enforcement agency and some business people have also been detained for alleged bribery cases.
Sources said more could be detained as the investigation deepens.
According to an ACC official, the groundwork such as intelligence and information gathering started about two months ago.
Rumours of alleged corruption involving law enforcement agencies working at the MDP and truck parking have been circling for a long time in Phuentsholing.
The ACC official also confirmed this.
“Law enforcement officials have allegedly been taking bribes from importers,” the official said. “This investigation is unprecedented and very complicated. There are three teams working around the clock in Phuentsholing, Thimphu, and Gelephu.”
Meanwhile, sources speculate the alleged corruption practices started because of the pandemic, which could have weakened the monitoring system owing to the risk of Covid-19 transmission and generated huge lapses in monitoring, providing opportunities for bribery and other corrupt practices.
“The primary reason for bribery could be for tax evasion and bringing in goods that are restricted and prohibited,” a source said. “Tax evasion could have been a motivator with regards to higher-taxed goods.”
The source said more cases may be investigated on restricted goods, especially tobacco. “Prohibited goods are goods that are not allowed for import, such as drugs.”
According to the source, although tobacco is restricted and import is illegal, it was still available throughout the country.
“Cigarettes and chewing tobacco worth millions may have entered from the MDP and truck parking illegally with corruption.”
Meanwhile, on July 31 this year, police seized 206 boxes (gums) of bidis, 2,400 bundles of BABA chewing tobacco, and 7,600 bundles of small BABA bundles. All these were seized from the truck parking, which is currently operating as a temporary dry port.
A BABA packet costs between Nu 70 and Nu 100 in Thimphu. Considering 12 packets of BABA in a big box and six packets in a smaller box, more than 74,000 packets were smuggled. If these products had reached Thimphu, it would have meant business worth Nu 7 million (M).
In another incident on November 8, 2020, tobacco products worth Nu 2.7M were seized by officials at Allay land customs station in Pasakha. The consignment contained 30 sacks of chewing tobacco and 12 cartons of cigarettes and bidis.
Such illegal transactions only indicate that many consignments have entered the country, which means that it happened with aid from law enforcement officials.
A source said that considering the amount value, the bribe money must have been huge.
The modus operandi for smuggling tobacco changed with different smugglers. Initially, smugglers would try to discreetly get the tobacco inside Phuentsholing. Toorsa river and Pasakha border areas were favourites, but strict surveillance and camera technology changed the status, as many were caught in attempts to smuggle.
Sources said smugglers took advantage of the systemic loopholes in the import procedures and through corrupt means, thus making MDP and truck parking a hotspot.