The recent seizure of over 17 pounds of pure gold worth more than $350,000 being smuggled through the Himalayan Kingdom caps a record year for police here.
The cops grabbed more than 115 pounds of illegal gold last year, a haul of well over $2 million.
China to Nepal’s north and India to the south each consume about 1,000 metric tons every year – almost five million pounds together. But the price in India after duty and tax is about 15 percent higher than in China, a difference of over $2,700 per pound. Since a one-kilogram (2.2 pound) bar of gold is only slightly larger than a smartphone, the temptation is obvious.
Efficient police forces catch less than 10 percent of smuggled goods overall. The Nepal police are not efficient, and they are handicapped by a nexus between smugglers and senior politicians. Those arrested are likely to be small fry rather than the major players in the smuggling.
The total traffic through Nepal could be hundreds of millions of dollars annually. That’s only a few percent of the market, a very plausible figure. But it is tens of millions of dollars in profit, a very large amount of money indeed in a poor country.