The Bhutanese found that the school teacher at the center of the AK-47 bullets controversy is a Sonam Choden, 38 from Paro, who is on a three year leave from her school. She was married to a Major in the Royal Body Guards but was living separately from him from 2016 March onwards ending with a formal divorce on 31st December 2016.
Sonam Choden in a telephonic interview with this paper claimed that she did not know how the bullets got there as she does not even know how to use a gun. She also said that AK-47 guns or bullets are not issued to the RBG and so it could not belong to her ex-husband as well.
Meanwhile the Indira Gandhi International Airport Police which discovered the 10 bullets had already registered an FIR against her and so she is likely to be summoned any day to an Indian court for hearings on the issue. The Indian police have sent the 10 bullets for forensic tests to primarily see if they are live rounds or not.
In Bhutan the Ministry of Foreign Affairs impounded Sonam’s passport after her deportation from Delhi to ensure that she cannot leave the country until all the investigations and processes are over. The particular concern of the Ministry was that she still had a valid US visa.
The Ministry of Information and Communication (MoIC) and the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) had already launched separate investigations on the case when the matter first came to light.
The MoIC investigation is to see the lapses of the airport security staff and also take appropriate action. It has been learnt that the MoIC has not accepted the two week suspension of the two security guards and will be taking stronger action against them under ‘Major Lapses’ given in the Bhutan Civil Service Rules.
The RBP in the meantime has transferred the RBP officer posted in the Paro Airport. The RBP which had also registered a case on the issue has already interrogated Sonam Choden twice, once in the airport when she was deported back from Delhi and later after summoning her in the RBP headquarters. The RBP already has a copy of the FIR report filed in Delhi on the case.
The RBP Police Chief Colonel Chimi Dorji said that the investigation on the 10 bullets case is still on and the RBP is looking at all aspects of the case.
Meanwhile Sonam Choden dismissed the various conspiracy theories around the 10 bullets found in her suitcase she said, “It is nothing like that. I was going to New York on a six month visa to work for three months and then apply for a master’s program there. I am not from any prominent family and I even sold my car to go to the USA.” Sonam Choden‘s father is a civil servant working under the Royal University of Bhutan.
She said after her divorce her younger son of seven years old is living with her and she had in fact asked her sister to take care of him while she went to USA to work and study as a single mom. “Why would I do something deliberately like this when I have a seven year old son to take care of,” she said.
Emphasizing on her ignorance of the presence of the 10 AK-47 bullets in her suitcase she said her suspicion is that someone must have inserted it while her luggage was in the parking area. She said her suitcase was the type which could be opened easily. The teacher said that since her family had come to see her off she spent some time outside the terminal without attending to her baggage.
“I have asked at the CCTV footage in the parking to be looked at to check for that possibility,” she said. However, a problem here is that there is no CCTV coverage in the area mentioned by Sonam.
Sonam also clarified that both the RBP officer at the airport, who asked a police personnel to help her with the heavy luggage, and the BAFRA official who waived off her excess baggage were her school classmates back from a 1995 batch.
Sonam said that the BAFRA official waiving of her excess baggage was not an extraordinary thing as a lot of other people also get it done.
The teacher in fact asked why the airport security officials had not pointed out the bullets and stopped her in Paro itself to prevent the issue from being blown up. She said that issues have only reached at this level because her luggage was allowed to go to Delhi.
Sonam’s flight was at 1.30 am in the morning to New York but at around 12 am the Indian police called her in a separate room and showed her the bullets in her suitcase. “I was shocked to see the bullets there surrounded by Indian police officials. If it was a person with weak heart then they might have had a heart attack on the spot,” said Sonam.
Sonam then immediately called the Royal Bhutan Embassy in Delhi explaining her predicament. An embassy mail carrying the daily diplomatic mail and bagged arrived at around 3 am with some embassy officials. The embassy officials helped Sonam with the police procedures and confirmed to the police that she is a Bhutanese national.
Sonam said, “The Indian police officials at the airport who seem to be very perceptive told me that I don’t look like someone who wanted to do harm and, as it is, bullets are useless without the gun.” The Indian police told her that she was free to go for now but that she may be summoned for further proceedings in the case. The embassy had also given a surety for her after which she was released.
Sonam expressed unhappiness that she was deported and treated like a criminal on the way back to Paro international airport where she was detained and interrogated by the RBP. She also said that she had been unable to book the New York flight and as a result had lost out on that too.
PM and MoIC Minister respond
Meanwhile the Minister for Information and Communications Lyonpo D.N Dhungyel said that the security personal at the airport did their job as they have always been doing, but they failed anyways. He also said that, both the ministry and the department have failed as a team.
Lyonpo said that, in order to avoid such issues and for better security, both the Ministry and the department are investigating the issue too.
Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay said that, the failures are from the security officials and the also from the passenger who was carrying the bullets. He said, “She failed in her part because although she was not aware of the bullets inside her luggage, it is responsibility of every traveler to be aware of what is inside their bag.”
Lyonchhen said that, the second failure comes from the security officials at the Paro Airport and they accept their mistake. “I met them personally, I talked with them on how important their work is, how they should be doing it in the future and how to make the security even better,” he said.
He also said that, once they are done with the discussion, the report on the penalty will be submitted. “What I heard was, the official will be demoted since it was their first time and if they repeat it, they will directly be terminated from the service and be taken to court.”
Lyonchhen said RBP is carrying out the investigation on this matter and a separate report will come from RBP upon, from where the bullets came and on how she is responsible and a different report will come from the Ministry as well.