Nearly a year later, no new developments on Nepal’s biggest gold smuggling caseMost of those accused have either been released on bail or general date while those in custody are appealing for conditional release.
Although the high-level committee formed to probe the country’s biggest gold smuggling racket to date submitted its report to the government in August last year, there have been few developments on the case.
The primary accused have either been released on bail or conditions of regular appearances at the court, a police station or the district administration office, also known as a ‘general date’. Most of those in custody have also appealed for conditional release. Sanam Shakya, a member of the smuggling ring, had been murdered in connection with the racket, but there are no developments there either.
After police recovered Shakya’s body in March last year and arrested three individuals, they learned that the murder was due to the disappearance of 33.5 kg of smuggled gold. The Home Ministry had formed a high-level probe committee under joint-secretary Eshor Raj Poudel in April last year to probe the murder and the whereabouts of the missing gold.
After more than 90 days of investigation, with its tenure extended two times, the committee had named 293 individuals involved in the smuggling and murder in its report.
Chudamani Upreti aka Gore, the leader of the smuggling ring, was arrested in May by the police, acting on information discovered by the committee. The ring had smuggled nearly four tonnes of gold through Tribhuvan International Airport between 2015 and 2018, the committee found. The investigation also revealed the involvement of high-level police and airport officials in assisting the smuggling.
While the committee was conducting its investigation, the District Attorney’s Office in May last year had filed charges against 63 individuals at the Morang District Court in connection with the gold smuggling case and Shakya’s murder.
According to the district attorney’s office, the charge sheets filed at the district court have since increased to 77, among which only 46 have been presented at the court. Benu Shrestha, Gore’s accomplice, was the last person presented in the court after his extradition from the United Arab Emirates on October 14 last year.
More than nine months after Shrestha was presented to the court, the government has not been able to collar any one of the remaining 31 accused.
As per the Home Ministry, which claims to have busted the biggest gold smuggling racket completely, the search is ongoing for those at large.
“The major people behind the racket have been arrested and their activities have come to an end,” Ram Krishna Subedi, the ministry spokesperson, told the Post. “Regarding those at large, we are looking for them.”
But many of those arrested have already been released on bail and many others in custody are appealing at the Supreme Court for release. According to the Office of the Attorney General, among the 46 individuals presented at the Morang district court, three have been released on general date and 16 on bail by the Biratnagar High Court. The released include former Deputy Inspector General Govinda Niroula, SSP Dibesh Lohani, SP Bikash Raj Khanal, DSP Prajit KC, Sub-inspector Bal Krishna Sanjel, Rajendra Kumar Shakya, Bimal Poddar and Ram Kumar Tiwari.
Following their release, Lohani, Khanal, KC and Sanjel have resumed their police duties.
Following the release by the high court, the Office of Attorney General had filed a case at the Supreme Court demanding those released be kept under judicial custody by changing the high court’s decision.
“There is enough evidence against those released for their involvement in criminal activities. They should be kept behind the bars, due to which we have filed a case at the Supreme Court,” Joint-attorney Sanjiv Raj Ghimire, spokesperson for the Office of the Attorney General, told the Post.
The Judicial Council had also conducted a probe on eight judges of Biratnagar High Court, who issued release orders for those accused in the gold smuggling case. Among the eight judges, Justice Umesh Kumar Singh has already been sacked.
The Supreme Court is also conducting hearings on cases filed by 18 individuals in custody, appealing for their release, and 19 other individuals. A verdict on all related cases was expected on Thursday, but was postponed.
“The hearing is still continuing as the court is overseeing cases of 37 individuals,” Joint-attorney Mahesh Prasad Khatri, a government advocate, told the Post. “The final verdict will come soon.”
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