Red sander wood smuggler granted compoundable sentence of one year

Smuggling: The high court’s (HC) bench II partially reversed the lower court’s ruling, and turned a non-compoundable sentence into compoundable prison terms of three years to one year in connection to the smuggling of red sander wood (Pterocarpus santalinus) across the northern border last year.

The HC verdict, which was passed last week, stated that the appellant Kinley Tshering, 22, from Katsho, Haa, was liable for a felony charge, as he imported red sander wood from India to smuggle to China through Bhutan.

The court also noted that, although red sander wood was not on the list of protected plants schedule-I of the Forest and Nature Conservation Act of Bhutan, 1995, and the list of totally protected plants species listed in schedule-I of said act, the offence the appellant committed would have a serious impact on friendly neighbouring countries.

“The case, however, was not filed before the court through a competent authority or relevant agency, which is a fundamental principle of penal code,” the HC verdict stated. “Moreover, the appellant has no previous criminal record of smuggling red sander wood, and the court hereby granted Kinley Tshering to pay thrimthue in lieu of one year imprisonment.”

Dissatisfied with the Haa district court’s judgment, Kinley Tshering appealed to the high court on March 18 through his representative.  The district court sentenced him to three years imprisonment and denied his petition to pay thrimthue.  He also requested the court to consider his fine amounting to Nu 771,875 to be paid in monthly instalments.

The HC, however, didn’t entertain his petition and asked him to pay the whole amount in lump sum within 10 days from the day of passing the judgment, as per the Supreme Court’s order of January 1, 2015.  The order also stated that red sander wood smuggler be punished as per section 491 of the amended penal code, 2011.

Kinley Tshering was released from prison on March 31 after he paid thrimthue for a year’s prison term, and the balance amount of fine at the range forest office in Haa on the same day.

The lower court found Kinley Tshering guilty of smuggling 962.5kg of red sander wood and ordered him to pay Nu 721,875 as the cost of the red sander wood, Nu 100,000 for 20 horses involved in transporting the illegal consignment, and a lump sum fine of Nu 50,000 to the forestry account within a month.

Kinley Tshering was imposed a total fine of Nu 0.915 million.  However, he refused to pay the total amount after paying Nu 100,000.  Forests officials then filed a case against him at the district court in November last year.

Between 2011 and 2014, Haa reported

about 12 red sander wood smuggling cases and more than Nu 3.985 million was collected as cost of sandalwood and fine by the range forest office.

By Rinzin Wangchuk