After six months of extensive investigation on the alleged bribery case in connection with the reduction of a sentence from life to 10 years, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has dropped the case involving foreign minister Damcho Dorji for lack of evidence.

It was alleged that the former drangpon of Mongar, Damcho Dorji, the incumbent foreign minister, was bribed by a contractor to change the prison term in connection with two choeten vandalism cases in Lhakhang Dogorba and Hongri, Chaskhar gewog in 2002.

Sources said that ACC could not establish that the then drangpon was bribed to reduce the sentence.  When bribery cannot be proven the case then becomes an administrative issue.

If Lyonpo Damcho Dorji was a serving judge, an administrative action as per the prevailing law of the then Thrimzhung Chhenmo 1957, could be imposed on him. However, since he is not a serving judge even administrative action can’t be taken.

During the course of the investigation from September 2016 to February this year, ACC officials interrogated 17 people, including the former superintendent and officer-in-charge of the Mongar police, constables, the convict, a DCM truck driver, former bench clerks and the messenger of the dzongkhag court. Of the 17 individuals, the bench clerk was detained for around two weeks to establish facts as the conviction order to the police was allegedly prepared by him and signed by the drangpon.

ACC officials reportedly also consulted informally with professionals in the legal fraternity and sought their legal opinion for probable prosecution of Lyonpo Damcho Dorji. It was concluded that the case doesn’t merit for prosecution.

The commission’s investigation however found that, in November 2002, Rido from Chaskhar, was found guilty of choeten vandalism and was accordingly sentenced to life imprisonment under section THA 1-11 of the Thrimzhung Chhenmo.  However, contrary to what had been explicitly stated in the judgment, the drangpon wrongfully communicated to Mongar police to imprison the accused for 10 years from March 8, 2002 to March 7, 2012. Subsequently, Rido was released on serving the prison term.

Lyonpo Damcho Dorji, during the Meet-the-Press on February 3, accepted responsibility and accountability for the oversight. He explained that the procedure by law is that courts have to wait for 10 working days to give time to appeal and only after it is confirmed that the person is not appealing, the bench clerk will prepare a form for the police saying that the person is convicted and has to be imprisoned.

Lyonpo explained that he had to sign more than 100 documents daily including the summons orders for 20 dzongkhags and 12 dungkhags. He said that when the letter was sent to the police, the sentence instead of life imprisonment became 10 years. Lyonpo admitted oversight and accepted responsibility.

In an anonymous letter sent to ACC and media houses, it was alleged that Ugyen Tshering, a contractor from Chaskhar who was the main suspect behind the choeten vandalisms was concerned that Rido may reveal his name at the higher court and  get him convicted. Therefore, the complaint letter stated that Ugyen Tshering bribed the drangpon to change Rido’s prison term. The issue was reportedly unearthed in 2014 when there was a mass conviction in choeten vandalism cases. Ugyen Tshering was one of the accused to receive life imprisonment.

Meanwhile, the commission on March 10 wrote to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court regarding discrepancy in the enforcement of judgment and stated that the ACC is of the view that, except for the conviction order, the judgement per se had not been altered. Sources said that the commission as required by the Anti-Corruption Act 2011 had communicated the matter to the judiciary for an appropriate course of action regarding enforcement of the judgment for the convict.

The Supreme Court’s registrar general was not available for comment.

Rinzin Wangchuk