Bhutanese held for allegedly smuggling sandalwood

Crime: A 37-year-old Bhutanese man is currently in Jaigaon police custody for allegedly trying to transport sandalwood worth Rs 10.5M into the country. He is from Tabrang, Phongmey in Trashigang.

On the midnight of January 2, Jaigaon police along with the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) intercepted a white private truck at Dalsingpara, some 10km from the bordering town of Jaigaon. The truck is also registered in the driver’s name, Kuensel learned.

The police in Phuentsholing, meanwhile, said the man was illegally ferrying about 900kg of sandalwood.

Superintendent of police (SP) in Phuentsholing said the driver was working for an unknown Indian man for commission. “He had claimed during interrogation that an Indian man had promised to pay him Nu 10,000 upon delivery,” the SP said, adding that the illegal consignment was headed for a delivery at Amochhu river site in Phuentsholing. “He was supposed to deliver to a party at the river bank.”

The SP also said that the truck owner claimed to not have any idea on who was supposed to receive the consignment in Amochhu site.

Meanwhile, the sandalwood was loaded at Madhya Satali, a small village in Hasimara. It is about 18km from Jaigaon.

The truck owner had bought 2,500 pieces of bricks from Jaigaon. The sandalwood was concealed under the bricks wrapped with 40 rice bags.

A case has been registered under the Jaigaon police. The Jaigaon police have also seized the truck, which is registered in Phuentsholing.

As the incident had occurred in Indian jurisdiction, Bhutan police didn’t have much information, because they cannot intervene.

Sources say the Bhutanese man was not cooperative in giving details. Some people in Phuentsholing even doubt if there was somebody to receive the sandalwood at Amochhu banks.

“How can a truck owner carry illegal item of such volume for just Nu 10,000,” a Phuentsholing businessman said. “It is hard to believe.”

However, during this time of the year, Amochhu embankment is a busy place because of the orange season. Bhutanese exporters and people from across the border, including importers from Bangladesh crowd the area night and day.

Although the incident of Bhutanese ferrying sandalwood was caught for the first time, sources reveal such incidences had been operational for some time now.

Sandalwood is ferried from Jaigaon to Phuentsholing and then to Paro and Haa and smuggled to China, sources said.

In recent times, Bhutan police has also intercepted many cases in Chukha. The truck owner will be shifted to Alipur police station and after police investigation is over, the man will be handed over to forest officials.

By Rajesh Rai, Phuenstsholing

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