By Nayak Paudel

Kathmandu, Mar. 6: The murder of Sanam Shakya in Eastern Nepal in March 2018 was what led police to bust the biggest gold smuggling racket of Nepal headed by its kingpin Chudamani Upreti, or “Gore”, and several investors. During the investigation, authorities found out that Shakya was murdered to retrieve 33.5 kg of gold which had vanished into thin air after being smuggled through the Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA).
A high-level probe team was then formed which later concluded that the racket used to smuggle 20-30 kg of gold on an average in one go through the airport.
However, the gold never came under the radar of the customs.
The investigation also led to the arrest of Gore on May 22, 2019 along with his accomplices, including high-level officials facilitating the racket. Some are still on the run.
However, to this day, the airport has not seen significant decline in gold smuggling. Many conceal the gold in several ways to make it undetectable to the custom’s X-ray machine or metal detector.
There are many who smuggle gold in a “legal” manner.
The government allows Nepali national arriving home to bring gold jewelry weighing up to 50 grams with themselves legally without requiring to pay any tax. Exploiting this loophole, smugglers have been using regular passengers to smuggle the yellow metal.
On Monday, the Metropolitan Police Airport Security Office of the TIA arrested Nagendra Kumar Rana, a resident of Syangja, from near T-3 Thakali Restaurant, located at the newly-constructed parking lot of the airport, while he was collecting gold jewelry brought by passengers coming from the United Arab Emirates via a Himalaya Airlines flight.
Rana had collected three gold bangles and two gold rings weighing 186.5 grams in total. He has been sent to the Tribhuvan Airport Customs Office, Gauchar with the confiscated gold for further investigation.
“People associated with Rana asked the passengers to carry gold jewelry with them and hand them over to a certain individual at a designated place after their arrival and they get paid for doing this. The jewelry is passed through customs since it doesn’t weigh more than 50 grams. Because the smugglers employ several people simultaneously for the work, they smuggle around 150-200 grams at a time,” said Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Rajeshnath Bastola, chief of the Metropolitan Police Airport Security Office.
The police arrest collectors like Rana, but let go off those who actually bring the gold. This is because they brought the gold within legal limits.
“The passengers are not provided with more than 50 grams of gold jewelry by the rackets, so they go through the custom unhindered. The collectors, who are part of the smuggling racket, are arrested because they are the ones who sell the gold in the market illegally, evading taxes,” said Bastola.
The airport security police have arrested several individuals with gold collected from the passengers bringing it legally for the smugglers.
On February 25, police had arrested Puspa Tamang with two gold bangles brought by passengers legally for her group from the international arrival’s parking lot. Upon preliminary investigation, it was revealed that several relatives of her were also found to be collecting gold at the airport.
Once the airport police arrest the collectors, they inform the other units in the valley seeking more information about the collectors.
“We have strengthened our surveillance system to expose both concealed as well as legally bought gold but without passengers’ knowledge. And those coming to collect that gold to sell illegally will be arrested and brought to justice,” Bastola told The Rising Nepal.
In addition to gold, people have also been smuggling electronic appliances in the same way. On Tuesday, the airport police arrested Shisir Rai, a resident of Bhojpur, while collecting five drones and eight camera batteries, along with branded shoes, bags, T-shirts and perfumes.
The airport officials have voiced their concern that the custom must be made more systematic in dealing with those bringing the gold with them, and that they must be held equally responsible as the collectors.