Paro dzongkhag court, this week, convicted five men to prison terms ranging between five years and two months, and one year two weeks for their involvement in smuggling 11.04 kg of gold worth USD 7 million into the country from Thailand.
Customs officials at Paro airport detained a businessman Sonam Tashi and an employee of Bhutan Broadcasting Service (BBS) Dorji Phuntsho with the smuggled gold biscuits on August 27, 2017.
Sonam Tashi was carrying 6.89kg of gold in his belt and Dorji Phuntsho had 4.115kg of gold in the pouch he strapped around his waist.
The court sentenced Sonam Tashi to five years and two months in prison for gold smuggling an offence of third degree felony.
Dorji Phuntsho was convicted for aiding and abetting the crime for letting Sonam Tashi use his visa to buy the consignment and also in helping him carry the gold out of Paro airport. He was found guilty of a fourth degree felony and sentenced to three years and a month in prison.
The Office of the Attorney General requested the court to alter the initial charge of aiding and abetting to smuggling. The court upon hearing the submissions from the parties involved in the case and evidence presented, dismissed it.
OAG argued that since Dorji Phuntsho carried the gold and possessed the smuggled item, he should be held accountable for smuggling. However, the court ruled that the individual did not benefit from the smuggling.
How it happened?
Two friends of Sonam Tashi, Thinley Wangchuk and Pema Dradul, contributed money and asked him to buy gold for them.
On reaching Bangkok, Sonam Tashi bought 3.916kg of gold for Baht 5.4M on his visa. Another 4.154kg of gold worth Baht 5,73M for Thinley Wangchuk, and 2.971.02kg worth Baht 4.1M was bought for Pema Dradul on Dorji Phuntsho’s visa.
Sonam Tashi packed the gold in two money pouch belts and carried them in a bag until they disembarked at Paro airport. He then took them out and asked Dorji Phuntsho to put on a belt.
Since Sonam Tashi could carry only USD 10,000 on him, he sought help from a Tashi Airlines technician, Norden. He helped Sonam Tashi and took a carton box inside the aircraft.
Norden in his statement to the court said that he did not know what was in the box. “I was told it contained dried meat and doma,” he said.
The court sentenced Norden to a year and two weeks in prison for official misconduct.
Thinley Wangchuk and Pema Dradul are convicted for solicitation, which is receiving of smuggled goods, and received half the sentence of Sonam Tashi, the prime accused.
The smuggled gold was handed over to the Royal Monetary Authority on August 29. As per the Royal Monetary Authority’s (RMA) rate, the smuggled in gold is worth Nu 33.81M.