Smuggling via Nepal
It’s an old mystery. If the outgoing goods are thoroughly checked before they gain entry into Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA), the country’s sole international airport, it makes sense to check incoming goods as thoroughly before they leave the airport. This failure to inspect incoming goods is all the more surprising as our law-enforcement agencies have long known that Nepal is being used as a transit for third-country smuggling of gold and counterfeit Indian currency. If only there was a scanner to inspect all the incoming goods, just like there is a scanner to inspect the goods leaving the
country, it would be impossible for smugglers to pull off stunts like the one they effected on
Thursday. On that day, the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) of Nepal Police apprehended three persons from Pingalasthan, Kathmandu, with a haul of 33 kg gold. The gold was being transported to an as yet undisclosed location after customs clearance at TIA. But whether or not there was a scanner to inspect such smuggled goods, police believe it would have been impossible to smuggle such a large amount of gold without the complicity of customs officials.
The officials of the Department of Customs, meanwhile, have raised doubts about whether the seized gold had indeed been imported via TIA. Since the Interpol had tipped off Nepal Police about the smuggling, the gold most certainly came from the said Air Arabia flight from Dubai. But we also see no point in such blame game after the fact. Yes, if some customs officials are found involved, they must be thrown in jail. But if government action is limited to punishing them, that will be like trying to treat a symptom while overlooking the underlying disease. In a country like Nepal that has over the years been used as a transit smuggling point there can be no justification for not installing and operating an extra scanner for the incoming goods. Apparently, one reason this hasn’t happened yet owes to differences between the police and customs department on who should operate such a scanner. But this is a lame excuse. How can differences between two state organs be allowed to impinge on national interest? A more likely explanation is that all those who have conspired against operating another scanner profit from such smuggling in one or the other way.
Although smaller quantities of gold being smuggled via TIA are regularly intercepted, we have to go back to 2013 for a haul of similar magnitude, when 35 kg gold was seized from TIA after it arrived from Dubai, again in an Air Arabia flight. Police record shows that a total of 346 kg gold has been seized over the past four years.
But these incidents of seizures now and then are poor gauze of the true extent of gold smuggling via Nepal.
Perhaps the police do not catch most of the smuggled gold and what they get is only the tip of the iceberg. Or perhaps the more frequent catches mean they have gotten better at what they do.
Whatever the case, right now the best way to clean the growing international image of Nepal as a ‘smuggling hub’ is to have an extra scanner at TIA and make inspection of incoming goods
mandatory. So install and start it—now.