The Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) found that the kidnappers from across the border, operating in mostly southern dzongkhags of Bhutan, are using Bhutanese SIM cards to contact the families and relatives of the hostages for ransom money.
The entire issue of the sale and misuse of Bhutanese SIM card was surveyed after the first incidence of kidnapping case in 22 October 2012. Since 2012, there have been nine confirmed cases of kidnapping involving 14 people Bhutanese people.
Upon SIM card verification, RBP found that Tashi Cell and B-Mobile SIMs being used by the kidnappers have been purchased by Bhutanese nationals and later provided to the non-national people.
Additional Chief of Police, Colonel Chimi Dorji said Bhutanese nationals have sold the SIM cards to non-national people after being offered more money.
Colonel Chimi Dorji said that a SIM card priced at Nu 70 is sold at Nu 150 across the border. He said that such people have been enjoying a lucrative business, not realizing the severe damage caused by them to the safety and peace of the Bhutanese people.
RBP, based on the contact numbers used by the miscreants, has identified the names of the Bhutanese citizens that procured the SIM cards and later handed them over to the non-nationals.
So far, three Bhutanese citizens have been caught distributing the SIM cards to non nationals.
In the case of a kidnapping of two drivers, a Bhutanese and an Indian, on September 5, 2014, the police found that the ransom calls were made using a Bhutanese SIM card. Upon the investigation, the police found out the number used by the kidnapper was registered under the name of Dhan Bhadhur Kami from Sarpang. He had purchased eight B-Mobile SIM cards under his name and names of his relatives for sale across the border.
Bhutanese SIM cards are also being used to make extortion from people residing across the border. Business people are regularly called for money and threatened with kidnap, murder, harm, etc.
The numbers used in extortion calls by the people across the border were also investigated by the police. A SIM card used in the extortion was registered under the name of Dili Dharu from Tsirang, who has purchased six B-Mobile SIM cards and three Tashi Cell SIM cards, all to be sold to people across the border.
The third person apprehended for distribution of SIM cards is Laxman Khararia from Sarpang. He had purchased nine B-mobile SIM cards and 12 Tashi Cell SIM cards to also be sold to the people across the border.
Meanwhile, the Chief of Police, Brigadier Kipchu Namgyel said the three Bhutanese citizens found distributing SIM cards to the non-nationals are arrested and produced before the court. The three men are charged with aiding and abetting of kidnapping and extortion, as per the laws of the land.
Further, the Chief of Police said RBP, Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs (MoHCA) and Bhutan Info-Com and Media Authority (BICMA) have carried out enough sensitization on the issue, but the public has not paid much heed to it. The Police Chief said there is a need to resort to a harsher method of sensitization.
“There is no way out because this is not only affecting our security, but also affecting the relation between the two friendly countries,” the Chief of Police said.
Brigadier Kipchu Namgyel said that the police would further deal sternly with the mobile service providers, hereafter, and if any of the service provider agents are caught doing wrong business then it would lead to the lock up of the management, agents and the buyers alike.
RBP has issued warnings to the public on the misuse and sale of SIM cards to non nationals. Measures are put in place to deactivate the SIM cards that have been sold to the people across the border.
As a preventive measure in 2013, the police convened meetings with the relevant stakeholders, such as BICMA, Bhutan Telecom, Tashi Cell, BLO to discuss the ways and means to prevent the sale of the Bhutanese SIM cards to any people from across the border.