Technological hurdles complicate investigation into gold smuggling

Published On: September 5, 2023 08:30 PM NPT By: Tapendra Karki

KATHMANDU, Sept 5: The Department of Revenue Investigation (DRI) has uncovered that the 60 kg gold smuggling network, recently seized, used WeChat and WhatsApp for communication. Ever since the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) of Nepal Police started its investigation into the smuggling case, it has been found that their network has been expanded through WeChat and WhatsApp, while testing the technical devices used by them, including mobiles phones.

Although it was found that the accused arrested for gold smuggling used to communicate through WeChat and WhatsApp, the police faced difficulties in tracing their records due to the absence of legal provisions and cooperation from the tech companies. It is not clear whether the conversation between Belgian citizen Dawa Tsering, Indian citizen of Tibetan origin and some politicians and businessmen in Nepal was related to gold smuggling. The contact of Belgian citizen Dawa Tsering has been seen with leaders and workers affiliated to political parties. But CIB sources said that nothing has been revealed about what discussion was held between them. "It seems that they held conversations, but it is not clear what the conversation was about and if the transaction is not visible, this matter cannot be confirmed, but if the details of the chat they are using are obtained, the conversation recorded there can be confirmed and evidence can be gathered," said a CIB source.

The CIB team arrested two Chinese citizens Yao Pucheng and Li Wen Sung on August 28. The CIB team arrested both of them from Kathmandu at that time and is still conducting an investigation into that matter. They don't seem to have had a conversation on the telephone, but it was seen that they had a regular conversation through the mobile app. Earlier on August 16 , the CIB team had arrested four Chinese Tian Mi, Wing Tong, Ding Segfa, Li Nengkai. Even though it was seen that there was a conversation between them through WeChat, the police asked for the details of the WeChat conversation through the Chinese police to find out what was discussed. But they refused to give the details saying that there is no agreement with the Nepal government and there is no legal basis. WeChat said that it had no legal obligation to give the details of the person. After that, the police also asked the US-based WhatsApp for details. But they also mentioned that there is no legal basis for providing details of individuals and there is no binding rule to provide details to the Nepal government, the investigation of Nepal Police is limited to only documents and statements. "Until the government of Nepal enacts a law to register messaging apps on social networks such as WeChat, Facebook, WhatsApp and Google, no matter how hard the Nepal Police investigates, there is no basis for gathering evidence until the details are obtained," said a CIB official involved in the investigation. Not only that, there is no record of the discussion of the conversation between Chinese businessmen Daojin Wang, Rahul Mahara, the son of Maoist Center leader Krishna Bahadur Mahara and other Chinese nationals detained by the CIB. It is revealed how many times they held a conversation, but there is no call record of what was discussed. Nepal Police Spokesperson Kuber Kadayat also said that the use of apps run by social networks has hampered the investigation. There is no social network server in Nepal, since there is no server in the country, details are not available on time for investigation.

Former AIG Bam Bahadur Bhandari said that the use of apps provided by social media has hindered the investigation of crimes due to the lack of laws in Nepal. He also mentioned that obtaining details and records of the conversations that social media users have had in Nepal is quite challenging and even if the details are acquired from any source, the process is slow.

“It's not statement-based investigation but evidence-based investigation, and in Nepal, it's challenging to conduct evidence-based investigations as there are no servers and records due to lack of registration. The state needs to pay close attention to this,” said former AIG Bhandari, who has worked in the field of crime investigation for a long time. The police have raised many voices for the regulation of social media and for that and the government has also drawn attention for the need of legislation to help in the investigation. About 15 years ago, the Prevention of Organized Crime Act was drafted by the government in 2010 after the kidnapping of Dr Upendra Devkota's daughter Megha Devkota.

At that time, when the Prevention of Organized Crime Act was drafted, there was a provision to record mobile phones and phones and provide the police with their details for investigation in case of suspicion. However when that law was enforced in 2013, that provision was removed. Even now, in some contexts, the issue of obtaining call records comes up.

The police have not been able to get the records of the WeChat and WhatsApp conversations. Chinese citizens seem to fully use the online payment service system WeChat. But it has not been revealed for what purpose it has been used. In Nepal, the transaction of Chinese hotels, restaurants and fancy shops is done directly through WeChat. Chinese citizens who were arrested in the gold case have also been seen to have given and received payments through WeChat. Before June/July 2080, payments through WeChat were banned in Nepal. Now transactions are done through WeChat via NMB Bank.

Although WeChat which was initially introduced by China is used in Nepal, Facebook has been banned in China since 2008. It is not possible to run Facebook using any browser from a normal mobile or computer. Not only this, Facebook, YouTube, Google, Twitter, Gmail and other websites and social networks are also banned in China. China has created WeChat like Facebook and made it available worldwide. One can make text messages, voice messages, voice calls and video calls in WeChat. Like on Facebook, photos, videos, various news and related links can be uploaded and sent through it. Since the Chinese use WeChat not only as a social networking site but also for all banking transactions, the Chinese nationals in Nepal have also made it a means of transaction.


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