DUSHANBE -- A Tajik court has sentenced nine people for smuggling large amounts of gold and cash from Dushanbe to Dubai and Istanbul, in a case that has been closely watched in Tajikistan.
The Dushanbe City Court said the men -- all of them Tajik citizens -- were handed prison terms ranging from two to 5 1/2 years on April 20.
Five of the men -- whose occupations weren’t disclosed -- were convicted of smuggling cash and gold from the Tajik-Afghan border to Dushanbe and further to foreign countries.
Four others -- three border guards and a police officer -- were found guilty of aiding the smugglers.
The defendants’ lawyers did not immediately comment, but several family members told RFE/RL on condition of anonymity on April 24 that they were not planning to appeal the sentences.
Investigations revealed that the group smuggled nearly 1.4 tons of gold bars and more than $100 million in cash between early September and mid-November last year, the court said.
The men used forged documents to transfer the goods from Dushanbe to the United Arab Emirates and Turkey, it said.
The probe began after Tajik authorities seized nearly 90 kilograms of gold bars and about $15 million in cash from smugglers at the Dushanbe airport on November 14.
According to the State Customs Service, the goods were discovered before they were loaded onto a Dubai-bound plane.
On February 27, an Afghan TV channel linked the smuggled gold and cash to Mohammad Mirza Katawazai, the deputy chairman of the Afghan parliament.
The report by the 1TV channel came on the same day as Katawazai arrived in Tajikistan as part of an Afghan parliamentary delegation.
Katawazai rejected the allegation. Upon his return to Kabul, he resigned from the deputy speaker’s post.
Tajik authorities have never publicly mentioned Katawazai’s name in connection with the smuggling case.
Authorities say the investigation continues.