Legal: Foresters across the country, who claimed they were demotivated after the Paro court acquitted a man who attacked a forest official on duty, hailed the High Court’s recent decision to partially reverse the lower court’s ruling.

The High Court, in the judgment passed on December 1, sentenced Gemba from Geptey in Paro to one and a half years in prison for attacking a forest official on duty, and for aiding and abetting the smuggling of sandalwood.

The owner of the truck and its driver were also made to compensate the forester of the Paro division a sum of Nu 7,500.

The incident occurred on April 23, 2014, when foresters on patrol in Paro found sandalwood concealed beneath sand in Gemba’s truck.

When foresters seized and held the truck that night, Gembo who was on the premises warned that he would murder the forest officials. Despite repeated requests, he refused to go home and kept threatening the foresters.

The court verdict stated that when foresters went to inspect the truck after they were informed that the sandalwood from the truck was being removed at 2am, foresters saw Gemba near the truck. He then attacked the foresters and one forester was injured on the head.

Paro court’s bench two, while passing the verdict, stated that the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) and the foresters could not prove beyond reasonable doubt that Gemba was guilty.

But OAG appealed on the grounds that medical reports clearly state that the forest official was injured and also because foresters provided evidence that Gemba attacked them.

The High Court verdict stated that Gemba was not convicted for a criminal offence since sandalwood is not a protected species of the country but because he refused to cooperate and went against uniformed personnel, besides concealing sandalwood smuggled from India in sand.

He was asked to pay Nu 45,000 in lieu of imprisonment but since he was in prison for one month, he can pay Nu 41,250. He was asked to pay an additional Nu 22,500 for six months imprisonment for battery.

The High Court also convicted another man, Chencho Nidup, to one year in prison as he was the main smuggler of the 726kgs of sandalwood Gemba was ferrying in his truck. He was made to pay Nu 45,000 in lieu of imprisonment.

Chencho Nidup was also imposed a fine of Nu 544,500 for the 726kgs of sandalwood, however he can pay Nu 542,375 since he was detained for 17 days.

Meanwhile, agriculture minister Yeshey Dorji clarified that while sandalwood is not listed in the protected species of the country, as there is no sandalwood in the country, Bhutan is obligated to adhere to the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species, as Bhutan is a member of it.

Tashi Dema