ACC forwards illegal land regularisation case to OAG

Corruption: Three people, including a lam, and a former employee and a legal assistant of Thimphu City Corporation (TCC), are alleged to have been involved in bribery and illegal regularisation of 46.88 decimals of government land.

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) forwarded the investigation report along with relevant documents to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) for prosecution on May 26.

The ACC investigation established a prima-facie case of bribery, forgery, tampering of public records and official misconduct on the illegal regularisation of government land at Tshalumaphey in Semtokha involving Chagzam Rinpoche, TCC’s former assistant survey officer Pema Dorji, and legal assistant Kuenzang.

The investigation found that sometime in 2005, Chagzam Rinpoche had purchased 63.12 decimals of land from Pema at Tshalumaphey, Chang gewog.

The purchase occurred during the period when thram records for the municipal area was being handled by the TCC, after being handed over by the Department of Survey and Land Records (DSLR).

The ACC investigation revealed that Pema Dorji had fraudulently surveyed the plot as 110 decimals and in exchange allegedly collected three payments amounting to Nu 2.05 million from Chagzam Rinpoche between May and June 2006. However, the money was never deposited into the government’s account.

The investigation also found that TCC’s legal assistant Kuenzang had knowingly assisted the parties in fraudulently processing the ownership certificate based on a false and manipulated record.

The irregularity was later discovered by the National Land Commission (NLC) in 2009 when Chagzam Rinpoche approached the commission for a proper Lagthram. By then, the authority to issue such title documents was reverted to NLC. It was only when NLC rejected the excess land registration that Chagzam Rinpoche brought up the issue of payments made to Pema Dorji.

The commission has concluded that this was a collusive bribery deal, which came to light when the authority to issue lagthram and the administrative control over thram records of municipal jurisdiction switched between TCC and NLC.

Chagzam Rinpoche submitted an application requesting the thrompon to regularise the excess land of 46.88 decimals under his thram on March 7, 2006. However, TCC rejected his request justifying that the excess land had already been finalised by DSLR prior to handing over of land records and that TCC did not have authority to regularise the excess land as per the standing regulation in force.

Chagzam Rinpoche reportedly told the ACC investigators that he requested for the regularisation of the excess land subsequent to Pema Dorji’s information on the excess land under his thram, and advised him to apply for the same during his visit to TCC for plot mapping.

The commission recommended probable charges of bribery, forgery and official misconduct against Pema Dorji for receiving Nu 2.05 million as a gratification for illegally regularising 46.88 decimals of excess land, and fabricating the thram to show 110 decimals. He is also charged for forging the signature of the former survey general Ugyen Takchu.

He is also implicated for official misconduct. Between 2005 and 2006, with an intent to illegally regularise 48.66 decimals of excess land in favour of Chagzam Rinpoche in consideration for financial gains, the accused, without any authority, had surveyed and demarcated the plot as 110 decimals and subdivided the plot into two different plots: one measuring 59.8 decimals and the other 49.9 decimals. He also surveyed and demarcated land for the construction of a 525m long motor road to the plot of Chagzam Rinpoche.

Chagzam Rinpoche is charged for bribery with intent to illegally regularise 46.88 decimals of land under his thram after his application was rejected by the TCC.

Kuenzang is accused of tampering with public records and to have fraudulently updated the forged thram recording 110 decimals despite knowing that the approved note-sheet was for only 63.12 decimals. She is also implicated for defrauding the thrompon into signing the ownership certificate for 110 decimals by deliberately misrepresenting that the forged thram was the one originally sent by DSLR.

Speaking to Kuensel, Kuenzang said that she was wrongly dragged into the case as she was the one to discover the discrepancy of figure in the thram. She admitted to having issued the ownership certificate for the 1.10 acre land, based on the thram record. However, she claimed that later she discovered the original thram of 63.12 decimals had been replaced by 1.10 acres of land. “Then I immediately informed my supervisors to take action,” she said.

ACC officials said that the evidence obtained during the investigation is sufficient to support the proposed charges against those involved and there is a public interest dimension to this case since it involves state land and is likely to create public deterrence for those considering engaging in such activities, if prosecuted.

The ACC investigation began in 2013 based on the Royal Audit Authority’s report, which indicated suspected elements of corruption in the TCC pertaining to the illegal registration of excess land. Subsequently, the commission also received similar referrals from NLC and TCC requesting investigation.

Rinzin Wangchuk

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