Ten arrested in one of biggest gold hauls out of Tribhuvan International AirportChinese and Indian nationals also held for their suspected roles in getting the gold through the TIA customs undetected.
In what police say is the biggest gold haul in recent decades at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport, ten persons have been arrested on the charge of smuggling in the yellow metal weighing around 100 kg. The gross weight of the consignment, which includes motorcycle brake shoes, is 155 kg, according to officials at the Mint division of the Nepal Rastra Bank, on whose custody the consignment has been entrusted.
On Tuesday, the Department of Revenue Investigation assisted by the Armed Police Force personnel seized gold estimated to be worth over a billion rupees and arrested six individuals. Two days later, on Thursday, four persons including a Chinese national were arrested. The Chinese was arrested from the airport as he was trying to leave the country. The three others are Nepali nationals—Krishna Kumar Shrestha, Rajan Shrestha and Pushkar Raj Bhattarai.
The gold had passed the Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) customs undetected and was seized from a taxi cab at Sinamangal, a locality near the airport.
“We are investigating the detainees to uncover their possible links with other individuals involved in the smuggling,” said senior superintendent of police Rajendra Khadka, who is also the APF spokesman. He said police are keeping a close eye on several others, based on the information extracted from the detainees.
According to the department, around 80 to 100 kilograms of the yellow metal stashed inside motorcycle brake shoes and suspected to have been brought from Hong Kong, was confiscated during a raid based on a tip-off on Tuesday.
On Thursday, the seized consignment was taken to the Mint Division to take the actual weight of the gold.
“A total of eight wax-sealed boxes arrived at our office on Thursday. The boxes weighed 155 kg. But we have yet to open the boxes and determine the exact quantity of gold,” said Thaneshwar Acharya, director at the division.
Lawmakers speaking during Thursday’s National Assembly meeting discussed the gold haul at length. Many criticised the authorities for lax security at the airport, accusing customs officials and police of openly abetting smuggling.
“This incident reminded me of the statement by convicted criminal Charles Sobhraj, who mockingly said that he could smuggle an elephant through the [Kathmandu] airport,” said Ramesh Jung Rayamajhi, the Nepali Congress parliamentary party leader in the assembly.
“Are we running a government or a smuggling racket?
“Reports say, in recent times, gold in large quantities was smuggled through the airport, not once but 22 times. When we try to pass a mobile phone or a watch by putting them in our coat pocket through the airport customs, the metal detector immediately beeps. Why didn’t it beep when they passed 100 kg of gold?” questioned Rayamajhi.
Meanwhile, UML lawmaker Gopal Bhattarai, speaking during the special hour in the upper house, demanded that the government launch an independent investigation into the gold smuggling case. “Such incidents make us wonder if smugglers are intervening in the governance of the nation,” said Bhattarai.
The customs department said it has decided to suspend three of its officials and forwarded the decision to the Ministry of Finance for further action. The three, according to the department, had given customs clearance to the gold consignment disguised as motorcycle brake shoes.
“This incident has left us very much concerned. We have already sent the three officials' names for suspension pending approval by the finance ministry,” said Punya Bikram Khadka, director at the Department of Customs.
When asked by the Post why the customs officials were unable to intercept such a huge quantity of gold, Director Khadka said the gold was disguised as a different commodity and difficult to detect. “We will scan the CCTV footage to examine their activities and investigate if they had facilitated smuggling,” he said.
APF spokesman Khadka told the Post on Thursday that the gold was seized from a taxi cab with registration number plate Ba 2 Cha 2324. According to him the gold was disguised as brake shoes and electric shaving machines.
The police have so far arrested custom agent Rajendra Rai, the taxi driver Ram Kumar Bhujel, Dilip Bhujel, Harka Raj Rai and an Indian national Thuptin Tsering and they have been detained on the premises of the APF office at at Minbhawan.
Nawa Raj Dhungana, director general at the Department of Revenue Investigation, said his office has already instructed the customs department to take action against its staff.
“We have already handed over the confiscated gold to the Nepal Rastra Bank to weigh the gold which will be done under the supervision of the Inland Revenue Department officials,” said Adhikari.
Meanwhile, Mint Division Director Acharya said it will take a few days to know the actual weight of the gold. “Because of bureaucratic hassles, we can’t immediately melt the gold. We need the Customs Department’s approval, and it has to be done in the presence of officials from the NRB, Department of Revenue Investigation, and other stakeholders,” said Acharya.
Officials at the Department of Customs said a six-member investigation team headed by Man Bahadur Paudel, director of the Department of Customs, was formed on Thursday.
Earlier in January, 2017, the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) of Nepal Police had seized 33kg of gold from a locality near the TIA. The gold had also passed undetected through the customs. A team had nabbed Gopal Bahadur Shahi, who had landed at the TIA by an Air Arabia flight, in connection with the gold.
According to police, in the past nine years, the Nepal Police, the APF, and different customs units and the Department of Revenue Investigation have confiscated over 665 kg of gold smuggled into Nepal through Hong Kong, Dubai (UAE), China, and other countries. Police arrested 706 people in connection with the smuggling cases, according to a report published in Kantipur daily, the Post’s sister paper.
According to officials, three customs officials including Ramesh Chand and Kumar Dhakal had given customs clearance to the gold consignment Tuesday.