A lthough pangolin smuggling is lucrative that attracts organised gangs, not all those involved are hardened criminals.
As Bishnu Adhikari, 24, came out from behind bars at Kathmandu’s Central Jail, his eyes are downcast and he looks subdued. The tall, unshaven young man sits on a narrow concrete bench in a rare media interview.
“My friend came to me with the package and suggested we go together to sell it, and split the money. I knew it was pangolin scales but didn’t know that punishment was so harsh if we were caught. I was doing it for money, anyone would — it is difficult raising a family.”
Adhikari lived with his mother, wife and daughter in Nuwakot district. He dropped out of school and had been supporting his family from carpentry. They were caught at a police checkpoint in Tokha, but his friend managed to escape. The district court sentenced Adhikari to five years in prison, but he is hoping to get out on bail.
“I will go back to my village, back to carpentry, use my skills to support my family,” said Adhikari. After Adhikari was taken back to his cell, we meet Bikash Chhetri, 17, from Dolakha district who is also accused of pangolin smuggling. With his shy pimpled face, it is clear Chhetri is no hardened criminal. It is difficult to hear his soft voice over the buzz of relatives nearby seeking visitors’ passes at the Central Jail.
Chhetri was in Grade 11 when he was arrested last year. He was travelling on a motorcycle with college friends to visit his brother-in-law. They were intercepted in Teku, and officers from the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) uncovered pangolin scales in his friend’s bag. Two of his friends who were also caught have been released.
“I knew smuggling pangolins was illegal but I didn’t know he was carrying it,” said Chhetri who is also serving a five-year sentence. “I would never imagine going through my friend’s belongings, I trusted him. I don’t know if I can afford bail, but I hope the state will look after me and consider my situation.”
Names have been changed to protect the identity of the inmates.
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