It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that there are very few of us not following, or at least aware of, the case of the missing gold. All 33.5 kilos of it, as the newspapers and TV reports keep reminding us. The funny thing is that in a normal conversation if someone was to tell you that a certain amount of gold is missing, it would make you think of stories involving pirates in the high seas, or outlaws from the Wild West or folk tales like Alibaba and the 40 thieves – anything but a 21st century tale of corruption from a third world country. But here we are – you and me – following this case as it unfolds like a badly directed television soap opera.
Although I’m not one for murder mysteries, this case seems to have all the ingredients of a potboiler – a slowly unraveling plot, murder, suicide, dirty cops, gullible ‘mules’, crooked bureaucrats and shady businessmen all controlled by a shadowy ‘mastermind’. This alleged mastermind, Chudamani Upreti aka ‘Gore’ was brought out of the shadows after being apprehended by the police on Tuesday in Kathmandu (of all places). Seriously though, what’s up with people named Chudamani lately? First it was Chudamani Sharma and his tax embezzlement scam and now his namesake making a name for himself with gold smuggling and possibly murder.
Anyway, when ‘Gore’ was arrested and unveiled before the media, I remember my colleagues and I being distinctly underwhelmed. Really? Is that it? I don’t know what we were expecting but after months of speculation and build up perhaps we had wrongly imagined a big, tattooed, mustachioed man wearing enough gold to make Bappi Lahiri blush (after all, he does smuggle gold). Instead we get this ‘socks in sandals’, throwback to the 90’s adolescent. In a crime caper befitting a villain with some gravitas and menace, this was such a letdown. I know you can’t really judge a book by its cover but on first impressions he wasn’t exactly – pun intended – the gold standard of villainy.
But the important thing is not the avatar he was in but the fact that he was here because this story promises to get really interesting once he starts spilling the beans. After all, it is this group who have allegedly smuggled close to 4000 kilos of gold into Nepal since July 2015. This eye watering amount is enough to get everyone in Kathmandu married twice over! In fact, chances are that half the folks who got married since that time probably have the ‘Gore’ hallmark stamped on their wedding jewelry.
Anyway, in a case as publicized as this and with the main accused now in custody, at least there is the prospect of justice being delivered but those who think it will have far reaching consequences on gold smuggling in this country are sadly mistaken. In fact, even as I write this, there are copious quantities of gold still being smuggled into Nepal. The police and other officials are well aware of the modus operandi of these gangs but it’s just so lucrative for them to look the other way. There are many surprising aspects of the case but I don’t think that senior police personnel being neck deep in it was one of them. Over the years in Nepal, we have come to trust our cops as much as we trust politicians – in other words, not at all.
If one looks at the demand and supply statistics of gold in our country, there is a huge mismatch and has been for quite a while, so it really is a no brainer as to where all that extra gold comes from. All we do whenever these cases surface, is transfer the guilty personnel en masse and hope that these knee jerk reactions can curb organized smuggling. The so called security lapses are not the result of incompetent bureaucrats and security personnel – there is an entrenched system that any new personnel will simply slot into thus ensuring thatthe status quo is maintained. All this will not change because we have apprehended one ‘Gore’ and anyway if it wasn’t for a murder, we wouldn’t even be talking about this case.
As the wheels of justice turn slowly, this case will slip out of the public consciousness unless some politician is involved, in which case it will get buried like the other Chudamani case. Unfortunately, we have seen it happen before. Meanwhile, the gold smuggling will continue unabated. Even policemen and officials will be the first to admit that these 4000 kilos – never mind the paltry 33.5 kilos that is missing in this case – is only the tip of the iceberg. Getting to the bottom of it is going to take a lot of doing and no small amount of political and administrative will. And currently, there’s not enough of either to go around.
The writer loves traveling, writing, and good food when he is afforded an escape from the rat race. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org