28 convicted in immigration fraud

Verdict for the remaining 55 cases are expected today and tomorrow

Court: Phuentsholing dungkhag court yesterday sentenced 28 defendants up to 15 months imprisonment for their involvement in bribery and illegal entry and exit of foreign workers.
The accused include five immigration officials, two assistant inspectors, a police personnel, four taxi drivers and 16 others from foreign worker recruitment agencies (FWRA). They were charged for active and passive bribery
Twenty-seven of them were given a year long prison term each while Sonam Nima of Lharig FWRA received the maximum sentence of one year and three months. Sonam Nima, who was charged with 17 counts of active bribery of public servants, was found guilty of processing fake voter cards for 16 foreign workers’ work permits and bribing immigration officials and assistant inspectors amounting to Nu 22,600.
All defendants were convicted under misdemeanor. The verdict stated that they were given an option to pay thrim thue in lieu of imprisonment.
The court also ordered the public servants to restitute the amount they received as bribery from taxi drivers and FWRA agencies.
Meanwhile, the dungkhag court will pass the verdict for the remaining 55 cases today and tomorrow. A total of 83 people were charged of which 30 were immigration officials, four were police personnel and 23 were license holders of FWRAs in Phuentsholing.  Most immigration inspectors, who were alleged to be corrupt, are reportedly junior officers with less than five years of service.
The lid to this case was opened in 2013 when Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) investigated a case involving several taxi drivers, police personnel, and immigration inspectors at Tanalum check post who were allegedly involved in bribery in the illegal exit of absconding foreign workers.
The investigation had uncovered two distinct schemes of bribery, one at the entry and another at the time of exit.
Corruption mainly occurred in passing through foreign workers from across the border with fake documents. This involved the recruitment agents as the staff had bribed immigration officials to aid fake voter cards.
Although both FWRAs and immigration could access the foreign workers’ original identification, bribery occurred with foreign workers being allowed to enter Bhutan with fake voter cards printed across the border.
The fake voter cards were processed for work permits by FWRA who bribed inspectors and officials with Nu 500 for every work permit issued. The actual legal fee the immigration charge for processing a foreign worker’s work permit is Nu 200.
Another situation in which the illegal practice occurred was at the time when a foreign worker was caught either without a work permit or an expired work permit. In this case, the legal penalty charged is Nu 9,900. Immigration inspectors dealt directly with the employers, who would deposit money into their bank accounts in lieu of the penalty.
Initially, only 12 immigration officials were suspended. These officials took bribes while the ACC was investigating. When the case was registered with the court this year, 18 immigration officials were suspended.
By Rajesh Rai, Phuentsholing
& Rinzin Wangchuk

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