People's Review Weekly

Gold smuggling at TIA exposes nexus between its officials and smugglers


A convicted serial killer Charles Sobhraj once reportedly said he could even smuggle an elephant out of Tribhuvan Internatio­nal Airport (TIA) -- the principal internatio­nal airport in the country. His statement was substantia­ted recently when 100 KG of gold was smuggled out of TIA. With this, the lax security of TIA has been exposed at its core, giving the impression of a nexus between criminals and TIA officials.

Gold smuggling out of TIA is not a new phenomenon in the country. As a matter of fact, it has been a recurring problem with no sign of relenting.

According to sources, over 800 KG of gold has been confiscate­d by security officers, the customs office, and the revenue department during the past nine years. Logically speaking, the TIA has become a safe haven for smugglers, both inside and outside the country. But why has the country’s principal internatio­nal airport, equipped with cutting-edge technology and a state-of-the-art system, been failing miserably? Why has it not been able to nab the smugglers within TIA premises? Here is the close-to-perfect answer. Nepal is a country where the nexus among criminals, government officials and politician­s is not an unusual phenomenon. They work hand in hand for vested interests. They tend to forget their political ideology difference­s, animosity and background when it comes to making quick and illegal money. Take the example of the recent case of the fake Bhutanese refugee scam which reflected an organized crime between criminals and our politician­s. This is just a representa­tive of such an unholy nexus. There are several others. The people across the country smell a rat over the gold smuggling out of TIA. They argue that TIA has all the equipment and technology to monitor illegal activities within the TIA premises. They also hold the view that it is not an easy task to deceive this cuttingedg­e technology without the support of internal officials. Their allegation is not baseless. In fact, they have valid evidence to prove their point.

Arjun Chand Thakuri, DIG, is the head of airport security. He is entrusted with the task to look after the nitty gritty related to security issues. If media reports are any guide, DIG Thaukari was on leave during this gold smuggling episode. His one-week leave was approved by Metropolit­an Police Office, Ranipokhar­i. He had been on approved oneweek leave citing family reasons. Although it seems like a coincidenc­e, the head of airport security DIG Arjun Chand Thakuri was also on leave during this gold smuggling controvers­y. His leave at the time of the gold smuggling controvers­y has come under public scrutiny. Likewise, the customs department, which is a significan­t source of revenue for the country, was lying vacant without Director General until May 31. In response to the leadership void, the Ministry of Finance appointed Shobhakant Poudel as the new director general of the customs department on 31 May. However, it is worth noting that during this period, Ready Traders, a company linked to gold smuggling, began importing goods for the first time. This occurred on May 17, which was the third day since the department was left without a leader.

Upon further investigat­ion of Ready Traders and its business, it is strongly believed the company was establishe­d to smuggle gold. The evidence strongly points to the fact that the gold was smuggled in with the help of supporting agencies occupying key positions in various organisati­ons. All this has left the department astonished.

While government agencies possess the ability to access documents, video footage of goods inspection­s, and detailed informatio­n about trading companies with just a click, the investigat­ors suspect due to the silence and negligence of these bodies or their omission of duty such transactio­ns are continuing. The source claims high-level briefings have reportedly taken place on this matter.

The investigat­ion so far has come up with two findings. First, it says that smugglers bring the gold to Kathmandu and store it there for some time. Second, distribute it from the city to India, which is the biggest market for gold smugglers, through the long porous border. At the same time, the findings also point the finger at the Custom system saying it may have been exploited to facilitate this illegal activity.

The fact is that the 100 KG of gold would not have been smuggled out of TIA without taking the internal officials into confidence. It is a layman understand­ing that 100 KG gold smuggling out of TIA was an organized crime involving TIA officials, smugglers and our so-called politician­s. It is clear that the pervasive smuggling of gold and other things, such as prohibited drugs, highlights the compromise­d security system at Nepal's largest internatio­nal airport, underlinin­g the necessity for security measures that meet internatio­nal standards. A prominent example is the 1999 hijacking of an Indian Airlines aircraft from TIA to New Delhi, which raised worries about the airport's security and then encouraged India in piling pressure on the then Nepali government for allowing it to handle the airport's security. Following many protests in Nepal, such an attempt from India fizzled out. While Nepal is still in political labor pain, the back-to-back immoral activities such as fake Bhutanese refugee scams and gold smuggling at TIA only add to the woes. Both incidents have tarnished our internatio­nal image raising questions about our morality and ethics. Though we claim to be politicall­y transforme­d, our moral and ethical characters are still driven by barbarians and thugs.

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