HC dishes out heavy prison terms in gold smuggling case

Legal: Four men involved in a gold smuggling case last year were handed down longer sentences by the High Court which revoked the Chukha dzongkhag court’s decisions on November 16.

The four were sentenced to prison terms ranging from two years to nine years and the gold was surrendered to the government.

Chungdu Wangchuk received a prison term of nine years and six months, Rinchen Dorji got seven years and six months, and Kuenley Tshering got two years, two months and eight days.

The man who delivered the gold package from a man at the China border to Haa, Rinzin, was sentenced to two and half years.

The men appealed to the High Court along with Office of the Attorney General (OAG) which charged them with smuggling, criminal conspiracy, obstruction of lawful authority, hindrance of prosecution and failure to report a crime.

The Chukha dzongkhag court handed a non-compoundable prison term of two years and six months each to the defendants Chungdu Wangchuk, 51, and Rinchen Dorji, 50, for receiving smuggled gold biscuits and attempting to transport it to Phuentsholing and for criminal conspiracy.

Overturning the decision of the lower court, the High Court nullified the internal agreement signed between Chungdu Wangchuk, Rinchen Dorji, and Kuenley Tshering in October 2015. According to the contract, they agreed to be carriers of gold from the border to Phuentsholing and requested Rinzin to bring the gold from the border to Haa.

The High Court quoted section 27 of the Contract Act of Bhutan 2013. The Act states: “If the consideration or object of any agreement is not lawful, the agreement shall be void”.

Further section 17 of the Act states that an agreement, which is not enforceable by law shall be void.

Rinzin, who was carrying yak fodder to his herd near the Chinese border on November 11, 2015 collected a package at the request of Chungdu Tshering. Four days later, he handed it to Rinchen Dorji at Haa, who then delivered it to Chundu Wangchuk, who opened the package containing seven gold biscuits, weighing a kilogramme each, at Chuzom.

Chundu Wangchuk was supposed to take the gold from Chuzom to Phuentsholing. However, he was arrested around midnight of November 15 after someone tipped off the police.

The OAG argued that the Chukha dzongkhag court altered the charges on the smuggling of seven kilogrammes of gold to “receivers” and “carriers” of smuggled goods against the four men.

Reversing the lower court’s decision, the High Court found Chungdu Wangchuk and Rinchen Dorji guilty of smuggling gold worth more than Nu 18.6 million. It ruled that the amount of gold smuggled in was beyond the 50 gramme permissible limit.

The High Court verdict stated that the statements from the three accused, Chungdu Wangchuk, Rinchen Dorji, and Kuenley Tshering, indicated beyond reasonable doubt the fact that their acts and intention were to transport gold from China to India.

The High Court’s value-based non-compoundable sentence to Chungdu Wangchuk and Rinchen Dorji were prison terms of five years each.

Chungdu Wangchuk was in police custody for four months and 20 days, and Rinchen Dorji served four months and 16 days in detention. This reduced their sentences to four years, seven months and 10 days for Chungdu Wangchuk and four years seven months and 14 days for Rinchen Dorji.

The court also found them guilty of criminal conspiracy for forging the contract with the intention to smuggle gold to India. Section 27 of the Penal Code states: “A defendant shall be guilty of the offence of criminal conspiracy to commit a crime, if the defendant agrees with another person or persons that they or one or more of them will engage in a conduct that constitutes a crime”.

Chungdu Wangchuk and Rinchen Dorji were issued two and a half year sentences each for this criminal offence. Kuenley Tshering received half the sentence, which allows the three men to pay in lieu of imprisonment terms. As he was detained in police custody for three months and 21 days, he has to serve two years, two months and eight days in prison.

The Tsimasham police had barricaded the road with a security checkpoint about 100 metres away from Tsimasham town towards Thimphu. The police stopped the vehicle with Chungdu Wangchuk and two accomplices in it at around 11pm and asked them to hand over the vehicle’s key. However, they did not comply and snuck through the blockade. Police chased them, and arrested them at the road point that leads to Tashigatshel from the main highway.

Chungdu Wangchuk is sentenced to a year in prison for obstruction of lawful authority. The Penal Code’s section 423 states: “A defendant shall be guilty of obstruction of lawful authority, if the defendant knowingly and without any reasonable cause obstructs lawful authority in execution of lawful duties”.

By the time the three were caught, the gold had been tossed out of the car. Chungdu Wangchuk threw away the seven kilogrammes and a mobile phone into the forest for which he was charged for hindering prosecution and sentenced to one year in prison.

The Penal Code section 418 (E) states that: ‘A defendant shall be guilty of the offence of hindering prosecution, if the defendant conceals or destroys any evidence that might aid in discovery or apprehension of the person’.

Rinzin was sentenced to two years six months, half the prison terms given to Chungdu Wangchuk and Rinchen Dorji for smuggling. As he was detained for four months and one night, and the sentence being non-compoundable, he will have to serve the remaining prison term of 25 months and 29 days in prison.

The parties have 10 working days from the date of the judgment to appeal or file for bail.

Tshering Palden

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