Three suspects are in custody for selling Bhutanese SIMs across the border
Crime: Three suspects are in police custody for selling Bhutanese SIM (subscriber identity module) cards to non-nationals from across the border.
The three were arrested on February 12 and charged to court the same day.
Some of the mobile numbers of the SIM cards provided or sold by the three suspects have been used to demand ransoms for kidnapped Bhutanese.
Additional police chief, colonel Chimmi Dorji, said the three suspects are Thinley Dorji from Trongsa, Dilip Saru from Tsirang, and Laxman Karia from Sarpang. He added that the three were involved in selling or buying Bhutanese SIM cards as favours for non-nationals in India.
A B-Mobile SIM card costs Nu 100 and a Tashi Cell one is Nu 200. They can be sold for double the price across the border in India.
Police found that Thinley Dorji had purchased eight SIM cards in both his name and those of his relatives and sold them to non-nationals in India. The mobile numbers of the SIM cards were used to contact the wives of two drivers, one a Bhutanese citizen and the other an Indian citizen, who were kidnapped on September 5 last year.
Dilip Saru was found to have purchased six B-Mobile and three Tashi Cell SIM cards, which were also sold to non-nationals in India. These SIM cards were used to make extortion calls to Bhutanese business people. The extortionists demanded money and threatened kidnapping or death if not paid.
Laxman Karia purchased nine B-Mobile and 12 Tashi Cell SIM cards, all of which were sold in India.
Police have charged the three with aiding and abetting kidnapping of Bhutanese citizens, as well as extortion.
Since the first kidnapping in October 22, 2012, there have been a total of nine kidnappings, including 14 Bhutanese victims. Three Bhutanese are still missing, including a boy kidnapped on December 16, last year.
Colonel Chimmi said the last contact with the kidnappers was on December 25. Relatives of those abducted, he said, have paid a total ransom of Nu 4.06M till date.
Kidnappers have been using Bhutanese mobile numbers to contact relatives of the victims since the first kidnapping in 2012.
In August 2013, a meeting involving the Bureau of Law and Order of the home ministry, the police, Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority, Bhutan Telecom and Tashi InfoComm was held to strategise and prevent the misuse of Bhutanese SIM cards.
The two telecommunications companies were instructed to create a database of SIM card owners. An awareness advertisement on handling SIM cards from the security perspective was also run on television for a few months following the meeting.
Police chief, brigadier Kipchu Namgyel, said that anyone found still selling SIM cards to non-nationals would be charged to court. He said that the two telecommunications companies have also been “warned” that if their agents are found to be involved, both agents and even management will be held accountable and “locked up, if there are lapses”.
The police chief also appealed to the public not to sell SIM cards to non-nationals, and if anyone has already done so, they should either ask the service provider or the police to deactivate it.
“This isn’t only affecting our security but also affecting the relationship between the two friendly countries, Bhutan and India,” the police chief said.
By Gyalsten K Dorji