Judiciary: Samdrupjongkhar dzongkhag court acquitted five on August 23 including three non-Bhutanese who had been charged with smuggling of a tiger skin.

According to the verdict, Jomotsangkha police handed over the accused to the forest division office in Samdrupjongkhar after apprehending them.

The divisional forest chief later filed a case in court after the accused refused to pay fines.

They were charged under Chapter 9, section 82, sub-section (7) related to protected species,

and clause (a) of the Forest and Nature Conservation Rules of Bhutan 2006, which states that regardless of whether an animal was taken, destroyed, injured, traded or captured in Bhutan or elsewhere, a penalty of imprisonment can be imposed which may extend up to five years or its equivalent in fines.

However, the court verdict states that there was no circumstantial evidence to prove that they had committed illegal trading of tiger skin.

The verdict also states that the illegal trading had occurred outside the country’s borders. The Royal Bhutan Police Act 2009 limits the police’s jurisdiction to within the country’s borders.

“The police has no authority to investigate the present crime but it clearly showed that the authority used was beyond their jurisdiction,” the verdict states.

The court instead issued a warning to the police official who had investigated the case and the informant as they were liable for instigating the five accused for the crime.

The verdict states that this is the first case where a law enforcement official was involved in investigating a crime outside the country’s border.

The court asked the forest division to hand over the confiscated tiger skin to the owner. However, the person who acquired the skin from another person from Nagaland in India, could not identify the actual owner.

The division therefore was instructed to handover the skin to the government as per the Penal Code of Bhutan 2004, and Forest and Nature Conservation Rules of Bhutan 2006.

One of the acquitted alleged that the police tortured him during the interrogation, but the court dismissed the allegation due to lack of evidence, the verdict states.

Division forest officials have decided to appeal to the High Court as they are not satisfied with the verdict.

The Pemagatshel drangpon presided over the hearings to avoid conflict of interest as one of the suspects was related to the Samdrupjongkhar drangpon’s wife.

Meanwhile, in a separate case, Samdrupjongkhar court has asked forest officials to hand over tiger bones to the government after it was seized in another smuggling case in Jomotsangkha dungkhag.

The court did not agree with the conclusions of the forestry office’s investigation and therefore did not convict any of the suspects involved in the case. Instead the court served a first warning to the forestry office for interrogating only one of two Bhutanese suspects.

The forestry office had interrogated a Bhutanese national after a non-Bhutanese involved in the smuggling of tiger bones revealed the Bhutanese national’s involvement in the statement.

The non-Bhutanese also provided pictures taken from a mobile phone as evidence. However, the Bhutanese national’s name was not mentioned in both reports submitted by the forest office.

The police had also interrogated the Bhutanese national.

The forestry office did not prosecute another Bhutanese national who was believed to be a police informer, and the one who had tipped the police off about the smuggling of the tiger bones. However, the same informant was involved in the smuggling of bones, the court verdict states.

The forestry office presented to the court that they had neither met nor seen this informant and therefore this person was not prosecuted. It is on these grounds that the court found fault with the forestry office’s investigation.

The court verdict states that such practices are a misuse of power because both the Bhutanese nationals were involved in the smuggling, and both should have been prosecuted.

Since this was the first time such a mistake had happened, the court issued the forestry office, a warning.

As per the law there is a reward for providing information but in this case the court  nullified the informant’s demand for the reward since going by the evidence the informant was also involved in the smuggling.

The verdict also states that if he was given a reward, it would have created disharmony in the community.

Yangchen C Rinzin |  Samdrupjongkhar