Yangchen C Rinzin
High Court last week upheld the lower court’s judgment of the 20kg gold smuggling case involving four individuals. The convicts had appealed to High Court in October 2019.
Paro dzongkhag court in September last year convicted four men, Chencho Tshering, Chencho Norbu, Gyem Dorji, and Rinchen Khandu for smuggling 20kg gold across the northern border at Kerila.
Rinchen Khandu and Gyem Dorji were convicted sentenced for five years of imprisonment for the third-degree felony.
While Chencho Tshering and Chencho Norbu were convicted for aiding and abetting and handed half the punishment. Chencho Tshering was a repeated offender.
A third-degree felony carries a prison term between five and nine years.
According to the judgment, Chencho Tshering had sent Gyem Dorji and Rinchen Khandu to pick up 20kg gold (one gold bar weighing 1kg each) worth Nu 58.7 million from a Chinese near Kerila. Chencho Norbu was the guide since he knew the illegal route up to the border.
They were given a secret code to reveal before picking up the gold. They were promised Nu 30,000 each for the task.
However, while returning to Paro Bhutanese border patrol personnel spotted them and were caught. The consignment was seized. Although Chencho Tshering claimed that he did not accompany the two, the court found evidence that he had accompanied the two men.
Law requires any person bringing in gold to declare it to customs, and seek prior permission of Royal Monetary Authority. They also violated the Sales Tax, Customs and Excise Act 2000 (STCEA).
Defendants in their appeal claimed that the gold was under restricted items and not prohibited as per the STCEA, so it was not smuggling. The High Court ruled that this particular section was already repealed and therefore, it was established as smuggling and considered as a grievous crime.
The lower court had also stated in its judgment that smuggling gold case was already widespread by then, so defendants had committed the crime knowingly.
Defendants had also claimed that they were unaware the parcel they collected contained gold. Chencho Tshering had claimed that he agreed to pick up the parcel because the person who delivered it was an old family business partner.
Chencho Tshering had claimed that he thought the parcel contained blankets and tea leaves, which he was supposed to handover to a non-Bhutanese in Phuentsholing. However, they could not prove their claim.
The High Court also upheld a similar judgement on another gold smuggling case. Chencho Tshering and Chencho Norbu were convicted for five years of imprisonment each.
The duo had smuggled 13kg gold worth Nu 41.8M from Phari, China in April 2018. They were convicted on August 8 last year.
Chencho Tshering had carried 8kg of gold worth Nu 25.77M and Chencho Wangchuk carried 5kg gold worth of Nu 16.1M.