Barely a week after filing a case against 10 men for smuggling 52kg of gold biscuits, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) has charged another group of six men for illegally importing 31kg of gold into the country from the northern border.

OAG on June 21 registered the smuggling case with the Paro dzongkhag court charging two businessmen, three farmers and a soldier for smuggling gold, solicitation, active and passive bribery of public servant and omission amounting to abuse of functions. All defendants are from Tsento gewog, Paro.

Following a tip-off, Paro police arrested two businessmen – Rinchen Tshering, 38, Lhab Gyeltshen, 32, and three farmers – Gem Dorji, 35, Tshering Dorji, 43 and Khandu, 33, around 8.30am on May 1 this year.

How was the gold smuggled in?

Police investigation revealed that Rinchen Tshering hired and sent four defendants to Kerila, Bhutan and Tibetan border to bring in 31kg of gold worth Nu 90.400 million (M) in June 2018. He agreed to pay them Nu 50,000 each as carrying charge.

The four men met two Tibetans, who handed over eight kilograms of gold biscuits to Gem Dorji, Lhab Gyeltshen and Tshering Dorji each and seven kilograms to Khandu. While they were returning with the gold, a patrolling team from Royal Bhutan Army, who spotted them at Yurja, asked them to wait there. But the men fled, according to OAG.

Tshering Dorji and Khandu managed to escape with their gold while Gem Dorji and Lhab Gyeltshen escaped from the patrolling team after they threw away their gold bags. The patrolling team officer picked up one bag containing three kilograms of gold. OAG’s attorney stated that the officer, after instructing Peljab Chencho Tshering to get the other bag, took the gold and went ahead to report to the RBA’s wing in Shaba, Paro.

While collecting the other bag, Peljab Chencho Tshering caught Gem Dorji and Lhab Gyeltshen. Since they are from the same village, the duo bribed Chencho Tshering with five kilograms of gold and requested him not to report about their gold possession. Peljab Chencho Tshering let the duo escape with eight kilograms of gold.

Chencho Tshering then handed over three kilograms gold to the patrolling officer and kept two kilograms for himself by concealing it in his sleeping bag.

Gem Dorji and Lhab Gyeltshen also decided to divide four kilograms of gold each and told Rinchen Tshering that the gold was left at Yurja when they were followed by the patrolling team. Tshering Dorji and Khandu, who escaped from the team, kept five kilograms of gold each and handed over only 10kg to Rinchen Tshering, who then took it to Phuentsholing and handed over the consignment to a man from India.

Few months later, Peljab Chencho Tshering handed over his share of gold to Gem Dorji to sell and took Nu 2M as advance.

Forfeiture of seized properties and charges

Of the 31kg gold (24K which is graded as 99.9 percent purity), police recovered 7-kg gold- two kilograms each from Tshering Dorji and Khandu and three kilograms from Lhab Gyeltshen. Police also seized 2-kg fake gold, Nu 5.4M and Rivo Hilux from Gem Dorji and Nu 1.985M from Peljab Chencho Tshering.

OAG’s attorney submitted before the court to forfeit seized gold biscuits, Nu 7.385M and the vehicle. Police forwarded this case to the OAG on June 6.

Rinchen Dorji is charged for gold smuggling and solicitation, violating Bhutan Penal Code’s section 279 and 126. As per the code’s section 18A, the crime is graded a third-degree felony with a prison term ranging from five to nine years.

Gem Dorji and Lhab Dorji are charged for smuggling and bribing Peljab Chencho Tshering with 5kg gold worth Nu 14.580M. They violated Anti-Corruption Act’s section 42 (3). It states that an offence under this section shall be a misdemeanor or value based sentencing, whichever is higher subject to a maximum of the felony of second degree with a prison term ranging from nine years to fifteen years.

Peljab Chencho Tshering is charged for passive bribery and omission amounting to abuse of function. Tshering Dorji and Khandu are charged for smuggling 8kg and 7kg gold worth Nu 23.329 and Nu 20.412M respectively.

Kuensel also learnt that Rinchen Tshering and Gem Dorji were already convicted by Paro court for five years in prison for involving in a separate gold smuggling case in 2017. They were granted bail after they appealed to the High Court.

Meanwhile, OAG is expected to charge two women and a man in three separate gold cases at the Paro court next week.

Customs officials at Paro International Airport caught Dechen Yangzom with 2.174kg of gold, Kezang Choki with 600 grams of gold in the form of a bangle, and Ugyen with 400 grams of gold. The trio flew from Bangkok, Thailand on different flights on January 30. The police forwarded these cases to OAG on March 12.

Rinzin Wangchuk