Gold smuggling doesn’t come to a stop

Kathmandu, Dec. 15:The police administration and the customs officials of the Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) seized 30.3 kilograms of gold smuggled to Nepal from Dubai and Tibet of China in five days, from December 6 to 10.

Adopting different measures and channelising different persons from other international airports and cross-border points, gold, moulded in different forms, is being smuggled to Nepal almost every day.

In July this year, 61 kg of gold was smuggled to Nepal from Hong Kong hiding it in the brake shoes.

The smugglers were found to have melted the gold to hide it in the brake shoes.

Basanta Lama, former AIG and one of the members of the high-level gold committee formed by the government in 2018 after the seizure of 33.5 kg of gold from Chudamani Upreti alias Gore, said that in the past, due to the decrease in the amount of money one could receive after leaking the information of the gold smuggling, the smuggled gold, with some exception, was regularly being passed either from the border or the TIA itself.

“When the amount of money of informants decreased, police and customs officials hardly received the pre-information about the smuggled gold. However, the gold smuggling to Nepal was happening regularly in the country,” said Lama.

By making amendments to the customs regulations, the government had made a provision to reward informants of gold, silver or jewellery smugglers 10 per cent of the prices of the smuggled goods or Rs. 1 million rupees, whichever is less.

However, according to Lama, informants still hesitated to leak information because the provision discouraged them as it increased personal risk. But again the government made the fourth amendment to the same customs regulations removing the sentence “or 1 million rupees, whichever is less” from it.

According to the police officers, after the correction in the provision, the person who gives information about gold smuggling is guaranteed to have 10 per cent of the total sale price of the smuggled goods and this encouraged the informants.

Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) for the Kathmandu Valley Crime Investigation Office, Somendra Singh Rathore, said that gold smuggling cannot be controlled as long as the big gap between the market’s demand and legal import exists.

“Furthermore, since India is the destination for most of the gold smuggled to Nepal, policy in India also makes a difference to the smuggling here”, SSP Rathore said.

The Crime Investigation Office seized two kg of gold from Nagadhunga on December 8. According to SSP Rathore, on the basis of information received, three people,

including a Chinese national, were held along with the gold they were bringing by hiding inside the Scorpio vehicle from the Rasuwagadhi border point.

Likewise, 7.800 kilograms of gold was seized from two jewellery shops – Om Gold House and Kailash Jewelry– from Bishal Bazaar, New Road, on

December 6, based on the tip-off. In the incident, police arrested Padam Prasad Pandey.

Only probe committees formed

On July 18, 2023, the Department of Revenue Investigation seized 61 kg of gold, which was earlier said to be one quintal. It was brought in the brake shoes.

After suspecting political involvement in the nine kg of gold smuggled by hiding in electronic cigarettes (Vapes) in August this year, the government and the main opposition agreed to form a high-level investigation commission to investigate the case.

Meanwhile, 11 kg of gold was recovered in the Lama Bagar area of Dolakha district when the probe commission was about to be formed.

While filing charges, the police submitted a report to the District Attorney Office, Dolakha, with the conclusion that the same group had earlier smuggled 33 kg of gold via the same route.

Now the high-level commission headed by former High Court judge Dilli Raj Acharya is taking statements from the accused on the two cases—the smuggling of 61 kg of gold and nine kg of gold smuggled in vapes. But still, the smuggling of gold to Nepal through the airport has not come under control.

Also in 2018, when the smuggling of 33.5 kg of gold came into the limelight, the government formed a high-level investigation committee under Joint Secretary Eshor Raj Poudel, who is currently Consul General of Kolkata, India.

Although the Poudel-led committee gave the report pointing out serious questions about airport security, the government neither made it public nor implemented the recommendations, said former AIG Rajendra Singh Bhandari.

Bhandari said, “Smuggling will not be stopped until the smugglers get political protection.”

Now, when another commission is investigating the gold smuggling, police and customs officials are seizing gold almost every day, he said.

Acharya, who is leading the latest probe commission, concluded that it is not only that TIA’s walk-through machines and x-ray machines are not able to detect the smuggled gold, but there are also many points for entering and exiting the airport, making the smugglers easy to pass the goods.

“It seems that the involvement of any group or employee within the airport should be the subject of investigation,” he added, “Until we bring about a radical change in the old system and structure of our state mechanism, smuggling will continue,” said Acharya.

An official at the Ministry of Finance said that the immigration, police and customs are there but they are working on their own at the TIA.

“If a person flies to and from Dubai within a week, immigration knows about it, but customs doesn’t get a clue of it. This shows the poor coordination of information among them,” he claimed.

699.2 kg gold smuggled in 10 years

Data from a decade shows how rampant is gold smuggling to Nepal. In the last 10 years, 699.2 kg of gold smuggled to Nepal through the only international airport and the cross-border points was recovered.

According to the statistics of the Police Headquarters, the gold was recovered during the fiscal year from 2014/15 to 2023/24 and 599 gold smugglers were arrested.

Former AIG Bhandari said that the gold was recovered because of information leakage, not because of the activeness of the state mechanism. He said, “Smugglers have made black money operational or useable through the smuggling of gold.” According to the data, in the last five months, 82.5 kg of smuggled gold was recovered in Kathmandu.

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