MORANG, May 4: Morang District Court has selected a judge for conducting hearings in the multi-billion rupee gold smuggling case through a drawing of lots.
While the court was in confusion over to which judge to assign the case, there were only three judges available at the court out of a total of five . According to the court administration, seniormost District Judge Raju Kumar Khatiwada and Judge Mahendra Prasad Pokharel had gone on leave. Of the three remaining judges-Kamal Prasad Pokhrel, Nawaraj Dahal and Narayan Prasad Sharma-- the court picked Sharma to conduct hearings in the case.
All eyes are now on the district court as the much talked about case has landed there.
The court, however, said selecting judges through a drawing of lots is nothing new. "We have been selecting judges through lots," said Nawaraj Dulal, the court registrar.
Dulal did not explain why two of the judges were absent at this particular time .
The court has started recording statements from those accused of involvement in the gold smuggling . A day after the Office of the District Attorney (ODA) Morang filed the case in the notorious 33 kg gold smuggling case, the court has started recording the statements of the accused . Altogether 63 people including six policemen stand accused of involvement in racketeering, smuggling, kidnapping and murder.
According to Court Registrar Dulal, the court has started recording the statements of six of the accused, including Tekraj Malla Thakuri, Mohan Kafle, Madhan Prasad Ghimire, Narendra Karki, Lakpa Sherpa and Rajan Kumar. "Recording of their statements and will continue on Friday also," said Dulal.
The court plans to complete recording the statements of all 29 accused by May 8.
Police officials involved in investigating the smuggling said the aforementioned accused are directly involved . Malla is the driver of Chudamni Uprety Gore, the mastermind, whereas Sherpa reportedly helped Gore escape to India via Jogbani .
Kafle and Ghimire were reportedly involved in the killing of Sanam Shakya.
In a 153-page charge sheet lodged at the district court on Wednesday, the ODA has demanded over Rs 17 billion in fines for around 38 tons of gold that the prosecutors claim the accused have smuggled since 2015.
The charge sheet was filed on the basis of documents furnished by the district police, according to Dulal, the court registrar .
The gold, which disappeared soon after it was smuggled in through Tribhuvan International Airport several months ago, has drawn widespread attention, mainly due to the involvement of high-level police officials. Since the case came to light, at least three people linked to it have turned up dead.
Twenty-nine out of the 63 accused have been handed over to the court, and charges against others have been filed in absentia.
34 accused still at large
Thirty-four of the accused are still at large including Gore himself, the alleged mastermind whose whereabouts remain unknown, SSP Shyam Bahadur Khatri, Sunil Shrestha, a Dharan local who runs Gold Silver Palace in Kathmandu, Rakshya Bhandari of Bhojpur, Arjun Prasad Pokharel of Morang, Guptalal Bhusal of Parbat, Ramhari Karki of Kavre, Prayas Parajuli of Pokhara and Sanjaya Adhikari and Samir Adhikari of Sindhupalchwok.
Likewise, Gita Shrestha of Dhankuta, Gore's wife Narbada Pokhrel, Madhav Acharya of Morang, Om Prakash Newar also of Morang, police constable Ammar Bahadur Thapa, Sunil Kumar Agrawal of Sunsari, Krishna Gopal Agrawal of Dharan, Ramesh Uprety of Urlabari, Chetnath Bhandari, Pramod Kumar Shrestha, Harisaran Khadka, Kamal Karki, Maniraj Chaulagain, Shiva Kumar Gubhaju, Surendra Gautam, Rustam Minya, Tuk Bahadur Magar, Bhanin Tamang, Mohan Kumar Agrawal and Chhiring Wangel Ghale are also at large.