Sentences handed down in tourist theft case


Thimphu district court sentenced three men and a woman yesterday to prison terms ranging from 3 to 9 years in connection with the robbery of an American tour group in October last year.

Gem Dorji and Dorji had robbed a group of 13 American tourists of four bags containing four passports, US$ 4,836 (about Nu 191,022), Thai Bhat 1,490, Nu 52,000, a camera, a binocular, clothes and 18 ATM cards, together with important documents. The tourists had camped in Soe Yaksa, where the thieves slit through the unattended tents.

Gem Dorji, 24, and 25-year-old Dorji were both charged with burglary and sentenced to nine years in prison. However, Gyem Dorji faced an extra charge for hindering the prosecution by absconding from arrest and prosecution, while Dorji had confessed to the crime and surrendered himself. Gyem Dorji was sentenced for six more months.

On October 24, police officials said that, after the duo committed the theft, they abandoned three bags at Rongsikangchu, Soe Yaksa, after taking all the cash, a pair of binoculars, and a bag. The abandoned bags were later lifted from Rongsikangchu by a couple.

The couple, Jigme Tobgay and Pema Choden, faced a 3-year 3-month prison term for knowingly obstructing lawful authority in doing their duties, for failing to report the crime and assisting the authorities, when they knew the bags were stolen from the tourists. Jigme Tobgay is 54 years old, while Pema Choden is 56.

Police officials recovered almost 90 percent of the stolen items. But Gyem Dorji and Dorji had already spent Nu 11,650, which the court has ordered them to refund within the next ten days.

The robbery could have affected tourism and the image of the country as a tourist destination for which the district court judge, Jangchu Norbu, directed all tour operators to provide enough safeguards and security to all tourists in future. He said: “We hope that personal interest will not undermine the purity of the last Shangrila. Tour operators should not be driven by the revenue they earn over the image and sovereignty of the country.”

The court also directed Snow Leopard, the agency through which the American tourists had come, to hand over all the recovered items to the tourists and produce evidence to the court of having done so.