Rinzin Wangchuk 

The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) charged three Indian businessmen for smuggling 1.49kgs of gold worth Nu 5.065 million (M) into the country from Thailand to Paro dzongkhag court on January 6.

Of the three suspects, two are from Mumbai, Maharashtra and the third man from Ahmedabad, Gujarat.

Businessman Ishan Yogeshchandra Bhatt, 33, of Ahmedabad, is charged for attempting to smuggle 800.8 grammes (gm) of gold worth Nu 2.725M into Bhutan through Paro international airport. He imported 111gm of gold chain and three gold biscuits weighing 689.8gm.

A businessman from Mumbai, Suresh Digambar Vernekar, 62, was also in possession of 111gm of gold chain and four gold biscuits weighing 465.86gm. He is charged for importing 576.86gm of gold amounting to Nu 1.962M.

The third businessman, Aboozar Abdul Shakur Shaikh, 56, who is also from Mumbai, is charged for importing 111gm of gold chain worth Nu 377,719.

They are charged for gold smuggling, violating Bhutan Penal Code’s section 279. The offence of smuggling shall be a value-based sentencing. The prosecution charged both Ishan Yogeshchandra Bhatt and Suresh Digambar Vernekar for third degree felony with a prison term ranging from five to nine years.

Aboozar Abdul Shakur Shaikh is booked for misdemeanor, which is graded as a felony of fourth degree with a prison term ranging from one to three years.

How the racket was busted?

The gold racket was busted after the Revenue and Customs officers apprehended the three men at the airport terminal in Paro International Airport around 2.46pm on November 8, 2019.

The suspects were coming from Bangkok in Bhutan Airlines.  Customs officers caught them with 111gm gold chain each worn around their necks and they were handed over to the Paro police along with the gold chains.

Police detained the three for further investigations. Police then found and seized four gold biscuits weighing 465.86gm from Suresh Digambar Vernekar and three gold bangles weighing 689.8gm from Ishan Yogeshchandra Bhatt.

OAG stated that suspect Ishan Yogeshchandra Bhatt travelled from India to Bangkok on holiday while two other suspects, Suresh Digambar Vernekar and Aboozar Abdul Shakur Shaikh were in Bangkok for their business trip.

Suresh Digambar Vernekar while staying at his hotel room met Aboozar Abdul Shakur Shaikh during which they planned to visit Bhutan. The trio told the police that they bought gold chains, gold bangles and gold biscuits from Bangkok for their personal use.

According to Customs Rules and Regulations of Bhutan 2017, gold and silver in the form of coins, bars or bullion including jewelry in excess of the quantity mentioned (50 grammes) shall require a permit from the relevant agency and is subject to levy of customs duty.

“Bhutanese nationals or the non-Bhutanese national residing in Bhutan, on their return to Bhutan from any country by air shall be allowed only 50gm of gold including jewelry,” it states.