How the CIB tackles organised crime

8 min read
22 Sep 2017
8 min read
2465 words
The dangerous, difficult intelligence work that the Central Investigation Bureau does is of utmost importance to Nepal’s police force, and thus by extension, to all Nepalis

In January 2017, the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) of Nepal Police seized from the Tribhuvan International Airport 33 kg of gold, all of which had passed undetected through customs. Last June, the CIB arrested a 63-year-old German national, Albert Fred Kilncke, from a hotel in Thamel, on charges of paedophilia. A 14-year-old boy was rescued from the scene. Last month, the CIB nabbed a Turkish national for allegedly duplicating debit cards and withdrawing cash from ATM booths in Kathmandu. And just a few weeks ago, the CIB rescued two Sri Lankan women in Kathmandu from the clutches of traffickers who were trying to traffick them to various foreign destinations, using Nepal as the transit point. 

Established in 2009 as a unit under the Nepal Police, the CIB (with its headquarters housed beside the premises of the National Police Academy in Maharajgunj) is the national investigation agency of Nepal. The CIB is a special unit tasked with investigating and combatting organised and transnational crimes and hardened criminals. The CIB has structured its investigative efforts to effectively respond to crime by joining forces with local police units across Nepal, and national and international experts with specialised knowledge about organised crime and terror groups. For about a decade now, the CIB has been dismantling cross-border criminal enterprises as well as bringing to book the perpetrators of heinous crimes in the country. Disrupting the complex nexus of crime and terror requires significant investigative expertise, and the CIB has since its inception been deploying well-trained, thoroughly professional officers--backed by a dedicated taskforce--to conduct intelligence activities in Nepal. 

The CIB has a unique modus operandi: it makes use of a multi-pillar strategy to prevent and tackle crime--methods that were the first of its kind in the Nepal Police Organisation. The pillar structure encompasses the following categories of crime: financial crimes, heinous crimes, wildlife crimes, fugitive crimes, women- and children-related crimes and cybercrime. For each category of crime, the CIB has the pertinent crime experts to tackle cases.

"We draw upon the experience, training and proficiency of our agents, and we also partner with the intelligence and law-enforcement communities to conduct coordinated investigations," says DIGP Puskar Karki, the newly appointed director of the CIB. "Tackling organised crime requires an organised structure," he adds. "Unlike with typical investigation methods used by the local police to hunt down people who commit one-off crimes, the CIB focuses on dismantling criminal groups and criminals who have been known to routinely work transnationally, and that's why we need well-organised and coordinated long-term strategies to do our work."

The different types of crimes that the CIB deals with

Financial crimes: mostly involve white-collar crimes like corporate fraud, insider trading, bank fraud, credit-card fraud, tax evasion cases, insurance fraud, and so on. The CIB officers and experts working in the financial-crime beat first have to undergo rigorous formal training so that they can handle the oftentimes intricate nature of financial crimes; these personnel are constantly updated about rapidly changing crime trends and about the technology the criminals of today use. Heinous crimes: include drug trafficking, murder, rape, kidnapping and extortion, among other atrocities. CIB officers, who are usually the first responders to heinous crime scenes, are armed with extensive knowledge that help them quickly process the crime scene and accelerate the rate at which the crime can be resolved. These officers are provided with checklists to help ensure that all the basic investigative procedures are carried out properly. 

"However, the checklists are only meant as pointers; they are not a substitute for critical thinking. The success of heinous-crime investigations is largely determined by the aptitude of the investigator," says DIGP Karki. To tackle cases of wildlife crime, another area of the CIB's focus, the CIB officers need to work as if they were working on a drug-trafficking case, as they involve the illegal export and import of wildlife. Usually, the officers follow the money trail: instead of merely focusing on the lower-rung criminals, the officers 'follow the money' to get to the kingpins who finance such operations; they will study money-laundering fronts and chains and investigate the kingpins' finances; for example, they will seize the bank accounts of criminals and follow the money-flow to figure out the extent and reach of the criminal networks. 

Fugitive criminals comprise people on the run who had earlier been charged with a violation of the law, and either were not arrested, or had been released on bail. One of the most effective tools in tracking such fugitives is the Red Notice. The notice informs the police organisations in all member countries of the International Police Organization (INTERPOL) that a criminal is on the loose and that the police can make a provisional arrest of the wanted person--with the aim of extraditing them after their apprehension. Red Notices contain identification details and judicial information about the wanted person. The INTERPOL provides assistance to member countries to locate and arrest fugitives who cross international boundaries. Crimes against women and children pertain to sexual trafficking, gang rape, trafficking of minors outside Nepal for hazardous work, fraudulent marriages, and so on. The CIB deploys a substantial number of female police officers to combat crimes related to women and children. Cybercrime is becoming increasingly high-tech and complex. Today, cybercrime isn't just restricted to online bullying; it includes specialised cybercrime mafias taking down huge businesses. As a result, extra police resources have been deployed to take on cybercrime, including a cybercrime investigation team under the CIB.

CIB's headquarters, Maharajgunj

Turning information into intelligence

Intelligence assessment at the CIB typically involves the following: overall planning and direction, collection of information; processing of information, data collation and analysis and dissemination of data. CIB officers usually work with large quantities of information, and they always run the risk of making a decision based on information that might be inaccurate. In order to minimise such mistakes, the CIB develops a close working relationship with analysts (usually experienced senior police officers) who understand how to manage, compile and analyse such information, as well as with intelligence officers, who know of the best ways to obtain information. All the pertinent information is gathered legally--the CIB prohibits illegal methods of obtaining information.

DIGP Puskar Karki

Information is mainly collected through overt as well as covert methods. An example of overt information collection would be an investigator interviewing a witness of a crime. It's a method of collecting information through interactions with individuals, who could be witnesses to crimes, victims of crimes or suspects. It may also include obtaining information from newspaper reports and public records. On the other hand, covert methods make use of what's known as 'intelligence gathering'. An example of covert information collection would be when physical or electronic surveillance is used to gather data on criminal activities. 

Once the information is collected, the intelligence unit then devotes itself into connecting the dots--by processing the available data to eliminate irrelevant, incorrect information--and putting the available information in logical order. The CIB also uses techniques like investigative analysis--one of the most critical ways of processing data--which involves telephone-record analyses; business-record analyses; case analyses; conversation analyses and so on. The intelligence team also uses software especially created for police work. In the data collation and analysis phase, CIB experts find meaning in the nuggets and patterns of data, after which they share the information with other appropriate law-enforcement agencies. This is how even the most trivial information--oftentimes born of instincts and hunches--turns into intelligence. 

Two types of training

Once appointed to work for the CIB, officers are deployed to various specialised areas of focus pertaining to the pillar strategy. The CIB provides a range of training activities for its staff (who sometimes even attend sessions conducted by the FBI). These sessions bring in all manner of experts from every area--illegal wildlife trade, white-collar crime, trafficking, and so on. However, much of the training that CIB police officers receive is obtained on the job. Then there is the 'other' kind of training the officers need to undergo--in order to operate as undercover agents.

Among CIB officers, the story of one agent 'Bipin' is often shared because it captures the nature of undercover work. When Bipin joined the CIB, he told his father that he had gotten into the police force as a sub-inspector; he was the first in his family to land a government job, the first in the family to get a 'pensionable job'--and thus the family's happiness knew no bounds. A few years later, Bipin's father bumped into his son in one of the busy streets of Kathmandu. Bipin was stationed at one corner of the street, among the throng, like the rest of the hawkers--he was selling cigarettes, lighters and chewing-gum. Bipin wasn't clad in a shiny blue police uniform; and upon seeing Bipin, his father thought his son had become a hawker. So distressed was the father, that he broke down before his son. But Bipin wasn't deceiving his father; he was merely working as an undercover CIB agent. If only his father were privy to why Bipin had been selected to become an undercover agent.

The CIB employs a select group comprising the most qualified agents--like Bipin--to perform undercover operations that contribute to the intelligence cycle. Most of the CIB's undercover agents are junior police officers, and some agents are also hired from a pool of confidential informants. Undercover agents need to have a plausible fictitious story about their identity; they require proper documents that validate their new identity and the appropriate mannerisms that fit the environment and situation they inhabit. Criminals will always try to interrogate those they suspect might be undercover agents and fire questions their way and use other tactics before they actually accept them into their inner circle. Agents are trained to remain calm in such situations.

Infiltration is another critical process of establishing a relationship between undercover officers and suspects. This is where the informant comes in. The informant helps an agent follow the right trail, like for example, knowing where the suspect goes on a typical Saturday night--it might be a bar or a nightclub. Initiating conversations in more casual environments helps bring together the suspect and the agent. It is in these situations that the CIB's months-long training comes to use. By this time, undercover agents will already be aware of what to say and what not to, when to probe further and when to swiftly disappear if the situation gets too dangerous. If the undercover assignment takes the officers to the suspect's house, the undercover agents are taught to be aware of all the escape routes and of anything that raises their suspicion. The CIB also provides the agents with self-defence training--on how to conceal their weapons and disarm opponents, among other tactics. The agents need to be ready to face any situation that comes their way.

"The primary objective is to help the agents blend seamlessly in a new milieu," says a former undercover agent who is now working as an instructor at the CIB. According to the instructor, an undercover agent requires a combination of a variety of skills (the skill to conduct lengthy observations while remaining almost invisible, among others) to completely internalise.  

Surveillance operations

Surveillance operations are imperative for gathering intelligence, as they require that suspects are kept under surveillance without arousing any suspicion. For this, an undercover agent must gain familiarity with the suspect's characteristics, and the scope of crimes in which the suspect is involved, for which CIB agents employ various surveillance tactics--everything from tailing suspects on foot and vehicle to living in temporary quarters next to a suspect's residence and spying on them. For example, a few years ago, these tactics were used to apprehend the leader of the infamous International Black Spider Group, which had been involved in extorting money from rich businessmen, doctors and bankers in Nepal. In 2010, Milan Lama--the leader of the Black Spider gang--was arrested in New Delhi after a five-year manhunt. In order to nab Lama, two undercover agents (who put up in a building across Lama's residence) followed Lama's every movement, every day, for about three months--from his gym to his leisure Saturdays at his cousin's. With the support of the intelligence unit, who were working tirelessly at the CIB office, the agents collected enough evidence before contacting the INTERPOL in India. That's how the five-year-long manhunt came to an end. 

"Most Nepalis only think about the work that the CIB does when such sensational cases come into the limelight," says DIGP Karki. "But even as everyone goes about their daily affairs, our officers are working tirelessly behind the scenes to unravel the complex webs being woven by nefarious criminals. We know we are working a dangerous job, but we find what we do rewarding--for our work ultimately helps keep Nepalis safe."