Kathmandu, September 5

Police said they have launched a massive manhunt to catch a Chinese national believed to be the mastermind behind the smuggling of 88 kg gold, which was seized by the law enforcement agency from Chhetrapati yesterday.

A source at Metropolitan Police Crime Division informed that Wan Wei Ming, 50, who was allegedly operating the smuggling racket under the cover of tourism entrepreneur and restaurateur in Thamel, and his wife Yang Wei Wing, managed to flee when police arrested car driver Manoj Adhikari with the vehicle carrying gold worth around Rs 430 million.

The gold was smuggled into Nepal from China via Rasuwagadhi-Kerung border point by evading customs.

“Sensing that police were after them following early morning seizure of the gold, the Chinese couple fled their Thamel-based restaurant. However, their car, which carried the smuggled gold, was impounded,” said the source.

Meanwhile, investigating officials are questioning Adhikari who drove the VIP logo-tagged car to Kathmandu by evading over 13 checkpoints along the Rasuwa-Kathmandu road stretch.

The source said all police units, Tribhuvan International Airport and customs points had been asked to step up security and to keep a vigil to ensure that the Chinese citizens don’t flee to neighbouring countries.

Police Commissioner AIG Jaya Bahadur Chand said, “Though the Chinese couple are still at large, we are making progress towards tracing their whereabouts,” he claimed.

Asked why police usually arrested ‘gold carriers’ but failed to get into the top layer of the smuggling racket, AIG Chand reasoned, “There are many unseen hands behind transnational smuggling of contraband like gold and drugs, and it is rare to hit the top operatives working from abroad. But we keep making efforts to reach them through our foreign counterparts,” he said.

“We are committed to cracking the nexus and bringing to book any person directly or indirectly involved in the smuggling,” he said and added that local jewellers were also under scanner in connection with the case.

According to police, most of the smuggled gold enters Nepal through Tatopani of Sindhupalchowk and Rasuwagadhi of Rasuwa from Hong Kong and China via Tibet while the gold entering from the TIA mainly comes from Dubai, Thailand and Malaysia.

A larger share of smuggled gold are pushed into India through the porous border by making Nepal its transit. The open border with India and relatively poor law enforcement in Nepal make it an easy route for smugglers to push gold into the southern neighbour.

DIG Pushkar Karki, Director at the Central Investigation Bureau, maintained that criminal groups active in Nepal, India and China are investing their money earned through illegal activities in gold. The government imposes a customs duty of Rs 4,20,000 per kg gold while selling it to jewellers through the official channel of commercial banks. The smugglers bring in gold through the back doors to evade the tax.

DIG Karki stressed the need to hold customs officials more responsible instead of putting all the blame on police.

The threshold of gold banks are authorised to sell to traders is 20 kg daily against an average demand of 35 kg. This is also encouraging racketeers to smuggle gold, police said. According to statistics, police have seized 557 kg gold in the past five years.