Four prime suspects and 33 accomplices are likely to be implicated

Corruption: The Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) has completed investigating the embezzlement of more than Nu 91.6M (million) from the Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan’s (RICBL) branch office in Paro.

“We are compiling a final report to be submitted to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) for prosecution,” an ACC commissioner said.

The commission’s investigation team conducted its last verification of documents on December 21. Sources said the commission is still gathering 16 missing cheques from RICBL and Bhutan National Bank Limited (BNBL).

“But the commission has decided not to investigate further and started to prepare the report,” an ACC official said.  “The embezzlement amount that the commission has established remains the same.”

The commission has reportedly established a strong collusion between RICBL’s Paro branch supervisor, Rinchen Wangdi and three employees of BNBL, Yoezer Dema, Tshering Wangdi and Lhaba Tshering, who are alleged to have embezzled Nu 91.6M within a period of three years.

The issue surfaced in June this year after a special audit team was deputed to the Paro branch office following observations on the supervisor’s luxurious lifestyle. It was found that four suspects had allegedly colluded to “fudge” bank statements while withdrawing from the RICBL account through forged signatures.

The suspects have also tampered with RICBL’s original bank accounts making it difficult for auditors to detect the discrepancies. The Royal Audit Authority (RAA) auditors and internal auditors were provided the fabricated bank details.

ACC also interrogated 33 individuals who were suspected of helping them to deposit and withdraw money from the bank. Commission officials said they could also charge them for aiding and abetting the crime.

Paro branch office maintains their account with BNBL and Bank of Bhutan. The cashier deposits the day’s transaction on the following day. After the daily deposits are done, the amount is updated and reflected accordingly on both BNBL and RICBL’s accounts. At the end of every month, both accounts are reconciled at the RICBL head office.

However, in this case, withdrawals and deposits were fabricated and the suspects had got hold of the RICBL cheques on which signatures were forged and the cash withdrawn.

Over the three-year period, neither RICBL nor the auditors had access to the original bank statements.

On December 14, the chairman of RICBL board wrote to the ACC chairperson requesting the commission to expedite the ongoing investigation.

“As a financial institution, when such a large amount is embezzled, we need to recover the amount at the earliest so the company could get back on track and move forward,” RICBL’s board chairman, Wangchuk Dorji stated. “This is a very crucial as the financial year is ending and we need to draw up our balance sheet.”

The letter also stated that the company is much concerned with the release of Rinchen Wangdi from detention on November 18, as it would pose a high risk to the ongoing case. The suspect was arrested in Nepal and flown to Bhutan on August 1 after he absconded on June 20.

The other main suspect, BNBL’s assistant IT officer was detained on July 30 while an assistant credit officer and a support-staff at the BNBL’s Paro branch office were detained since August 3. All were released on bail.

According to the Civil and Criminal Procedure Code, the court may from time to time authorize the detention of the accused for a reasonable duration calculated from the date of issuance of the first remand order, which in the whole shall not exceed 108 days based on the severity of charges or accusation.

This means investigation against the detained will have to complete within 108 days and the accused cannot be detained further.

Explaining the prolonged investigation, ACC commissioner Jamtsho said the amount embezzled was huge and the commission had to establish who were actually accountable in this case. “Our investigators had to look into all the transaction taken place between the insurance company and bank, vouchers and cheque books and who all had benefited,” he said. “The other factor for taking time was documentation, which was not available.”

Rinzin Wangchuk