August 10, 2023
BHUTAN – The smuggling case of the USD 450,000, which Thai Customs seized at the Bangkok International Airport involves two catering staff of the Drukair Corporation Ltd. with one used as a carrier by a businessman from Shaba who was orchestrating the smuggling, Kuensel has found.
A joint investigation team comprising police and customs officials in Paro confirmed that the dollars were taken into the aircraft using the catering trolley on June 23.
According to Kuensel sources, the 42-year-old production head of the Drukair Catering Unit collaborated with his wife, who works as a supervisor of duty-free in the same unit, to carry the USD 100 notes inside three K5 Whisky boxes with the food and beverage trolley on Drukair’s aircraft and placed it in the overhead cabin.
Ground staff take catering items like food and beverages to the aircraft through Drukair catering gate and do not need to pass through customs.
Kuensel learned that security measures for food trucks, trolleys, pre-ordered goods, and catering staff access inside the aircraft for delivering items to the cabin crews were inadequate.
The case came to light on July 2, when Paro police were informed about the man who had flown to Bangkok from Paro on Drukair’s KB-130 flight, was arrested by Thai customs at the Bangkok airport. The man had flown to Bangkok on June 23 and returned to Bhutan on June 28.
Following a tip-off, police detained the man on July 3 for investigation and found that his wife had helped him put the dollars in the aircraft’s overhead cabin. The dollars were handed over to the couple by a businessman living in Shaba.
Initially, the man denied carrying the dollars, although he accepted that he was carrying three bottles of K5 whisky to be handed over to an Indian businesswoman called Anu, who deals in gold and money business in Bangkok.
The man reportedly told police that the businesswoman had asked him to bring three bottles of K5 Whisky and hand them over to her at Bagdora airport, India, where Drukair was flying via to Bangkok. He also claimed that he was not aware that the empty Whisky boxes were stuffed with US dollars.
However, the man’s wife confessed that the money belonged to them and that she put it in the aircraft’s overhead cabin. She also confessed to informing an air hostess that the small consignment was pre-ordered K5 Whisky and requested her to pass the message to a male passenger (her husband) when he boarded the aircraft.
Later, the man confessed that the dollars were given to him by the businessman. It was to be handed over to Anu and to bring a gold consignment from Bangkok. The businessman promised him a commission of Nu 150,000.
Prior to his departure, the couple stuffed dollars in Whisky boxes to show as K5 bought from the duty-free shop.
Caught at the exit gate
Thai customs at Bangkok International Airport scanned the man’s baggage and his handbag at the exit gate and found the dollars. They seized the cash along with his passport.
The man immediately informed Anu about the seizure through WhatsApp messages. The man was released after two hours, but customs officials withheld his passport.
According to Kuensel sources, the businesswoman, after three days, had given him Thai Baht 310,465, about Nu 807,209, to be paid to Thai customs as a penalty for carrying dollars beyond the permissible amount. As per the foreign currency regulations, any foreign currency equivalent to or exceeding USD 10,000 must be declared to customs upon departure or arrival.
The man paid the penalty and Thai customs officials released his passport to return home. He claimed that the Thai customs assured him that they would return the seized dollars after three months if they could prove the money was legally obtained.
Kuensel learned that the man had been to Bangkok seven times in the past six months, which made officials at the Paro airport suspicious. Sources also said that customs officials at the Bangkok International Airport had been monitoring the suspect’s travels following his frequent visits to Thailand.
During one of his travels to Bangkok, he brought a kilogram of gold and handed it over to the Shaba businessman, who paid him Nu 60,000 as a commission. The gold was reportedly sent by Anu.
The Shaba businessman received a commission of Nu 300,000 from Anu to send USD 0.45M through the man in question. Kuensel learned that the businessman met Anu in 2015.
Sources also said that the couple used the same modus operandi to smuggle out dollars and bring in gold. “They served as carriers for the Shaba man and the businesswoman in Bangkok,” a source told Kuensel.
Meanwhile, police refused to share information saying that the investigation is not completed.