It was already a high profile affair, the Lhakhang Karpo construction case. An elected minister was retrospectively accused of misuse of authority, taken to court and then acquitted.
The question on everyone’s lips was – would the Office of the Attorney General that prosecuted the case on behalf of the government appeal? The public had scrutinised the verdict, and some opinions were expressed. Such things are done to put pressure, if not influence decisions.
The OAG and ACC have decided to appeal and the ACC will take up the case once it reaches the High Court making it the second case, in which the anti-graft agency would prosecute members of a ruling government.
The OAG’s decision to handover the case to ACC could be seen as a lukewarm response to a highly charged case. Many were of the view that, to assert its independence and merit some credibility, the OAG should have appealed, if there were reasons to do so. They could convince the ACC, if they saw no reasons or grounds to appeal.
Fighting a case just because ACC wanted to would undermine the prosecution. Cases are appealed or fought, based on valid grounds, and when convinced that the verdict can be challenged.
But the OAG’s decision to leave it to ACC should not be seen as washing the matter off their hands. It is a wise decision, given the circumstances surrounding the case. When the case was first assigned to OAG in January, there was some uneasiness, as people perceived a conflict of interest in a government arm prosecuting a member of the government.
The verdict, which acquitted the foreign minister, didn’t help. Like the Attorney General said, any decision by the OAG could be interpreted wrongly as it involved a cabinet minister of the government. Losing the case in a higher court could be worse.
Meanwhile, it is not the first time that the ACC is prosecuting a case, which they investigated and found worth pursuing. In the Gyalpoizhing case, the OAG didn’t see a case, which the ACC later took up and convicted several people, including a minister and the National Assembly Speaker.
After the Gyalpoizhing verdict in 2013, there were concerns that the ACC should stick to its role of investigation and leave prosecution to the OAG. From the current experience and the one in 2013, it is clear that the fears were unfounded, and it was best left to ACC to prosecute, when members of the government, especially cabinet ministers, are involved.
There were also concerns that a precedent would be set. It has been set. It is not in the interest of the OAG or the ACC alone, but for the larger good of democracy.
All eyes will now be on the higher court. If the High Court convicts the minister, the project manager and the project engineer, who the ACC is prepared to prosecute, there will be many questions asked. But this should not deter the High Court from adjudicating as it sees fit. Verdicts have been known to change on appeal.