Thorough investigation on to see if there is a racket behind the affair

Crime: A thorough investigation of the May 4 visa forgery incident, where visas of 19 Thai tourists were forged, is underway, according to the home minister, Damcho Dorji.

Lyonpo Damcho Dorji said that a detailed investigation into the issue was necessary to get to the root of the issue. “It may take some time because it’s not just about catching the people involved and putting behind bars,” lyonpo said.

“One person can’t do it alone without support of more people,” lyonpo said. “We have to see if there’s a fault in the system and for how long the racket has been going on.”

Lyonpo Damcho Dorji also said that they were not just bothered about the person involved who was currently under police custody, but that it needed to be seen whether or not the system should be corrected. “A thorough investigation will take some time as we don’t have necessary equipment,” lyonpo added.

On May 4, 28 Thai tourists arrived at the Paro international airport as official guests.  Of the 28, immigration officials found that 19 visas were forged.  Sources said the group was brought in as official guests, but were tourists.

Paro police detained the tour operator and an official with the policy and planning division of the economic affairs ministry.  The tourists had come through Bhutan Breez, a travel agency located in Lungtenphu, Thimphu.

Lyonchoen Tshering Tobgay, at the meet-the-press session recently, said that there could be many forgery cases that could have been undetected.

Following the incident, Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) handled the logistics of the 28 Thai tourists, who were then deported on May 9.

While visas for tourists, who pay the minimum daily package rate of USD 250, are applied for online through the visa online system introduced in 2009, the immigration department directly issues visas for regional, official, and business visitors.  Visas in these categories are not reflected on the visa online system.

People from the tourism industry attributes loopholes in the existing tourism and immigration regulations leading to such forgery cases. There were two cases in 2012 and 2014 involving tourist visas.

TCB officials said they would take administrative action on Bhutan Breez, in line with the findings from the agencies concerned.  The most severe form of penalty is cancellation of license, in line with the tourism regulations.

TCB’s annual report states that about 17 percent of the 64,028 international visitors in 2013 were on business and official purpose.  About 16 percent of the 54,685 international visitors in 2012 were official and business guests.

Similarly, the immigration department issues about 70 visas for personal guests every month.  As of April 14, this year, the department issued 243 personal guest visas.

By Kinga Dema