The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), which is still investigating the alleged fund diversion of the Buddha Dordenma Image project involving former project manager, Damchoe Choden, has issued another freeze notice on 19.962 acres of land belonging to nine individuals in Punakha, Paro and Thimphu last month.

This brings the total size of land frozen to 20.685 acres and five houses belonging to Damchoe Choden and 13 other individuals since ACC began investigation for suspected possession of disproportionate assets and income, alleged project fund diversion, fraudulent practice in tourism business and tax evasion.

ACC on June 24 issued freeze notice on 11.442 acres land in Dzomi gewog Punakha belonging to the joint ownership of Choeten Zangmo, Choni Zangmo and Tshering Wangmo, 0.9 and 0.98 acre land in Kabisa, Punakha belonging to Sonam Lhaden and Kuenzang Dema.

ACC also issued freeze notice to 1.3 acres of land in Barp gewog, Punakha, 0.16  acre in Taba and 3.38 acre land in Mewang, both in Thimphu and 1.2 acre land in Lungnyi, Paro belonging to Tshering Wangdi. ACC also put a freeze to any transaction of 0.12 acres of land owned by Jamphel, Kuenzang, Tashi Wangdi, Nima Dorji and Leki Tshering in Lungnyi.

The commission notified individuals, institutions and any business entities to refrain from entering into any transactions on the immoveable properties.

On August 9 last year, ACC had issued the first freeze notice on immovable properties registered in Damchoe Choden’s name against any transaction. The commission had listed six properties – three dry land in Sarpang and Thimphu and three buildings in Thimphu and Punakha. ACC also froze transactions for two building registered in her brother Ugyen’s name and one Sonam Yangzom in Guma, Punakha.

Section 60 and 107 of the Anti-Corruption Act 2011 empowers ACC to investigate disproportionate assets and income he or she possesses and issue a seizure of immovable property. Section 107 states that where the commission is satisfied on information obtained by it that any immovable property is the subject matter of an offence under the Act or evidence of the commission of such offence, such property shall be liable to seizure.

Popularly known as Anim Damchoe, Damchoe Choden was suspended from work on August 6 last year by the Buddha Dordenma Image Foundation in Kuenselphodrang after the ACC found prima facie of corruption when she was managing the project as manager.

Kuensel learnt that the ACC team has visited Singapore, Malaysia and Hongkong to interview people who donated for the Buddha Dordenma project.

Tax fraud in exports and import

On the alleged tax evasion issue, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) is yet to charge sheet the case before the court. ACC found that the proprietor of Lhaimetog Export and Import, Anim Damchoe and its chief executive officer and her nephew Younten Jamtsho allegedly evaded Nu 21.296 million in tax between 2009 and 2017.

Between 2009 and 2017, the firm reported taxable income of Nu 88.819 million to the tax authority and paid Nu 1.133 million as business income tax. ACC found that the firm’s actual earning was much more and that it had concealed export income of at least Nu 70.987 million.

Lhaimetog export and import registered in 2009 exported cordyceps to certain foreign customers in Southeast Asia. The company belongs to Anim Damcho, but was operated by her nephew Younten Jamtsho.

Younten Jamtsho and his staff allegedly falsified and significantly undervalued its export invoices, and in many instances, even directed its foreign customers to wire transfer the money to the personal bank accounts. “The investigation concluded that the fraud was willfully committed to abate its statutory obligation to pay genuine tax and deprive the sate of its lawful dues,” ACC stated in its annual report that was distributed to the members of the Parliament last month.

ACC determined that the invocation of relevant provisions of the Income Tax Act 2001, the business firm is liable to restitute Nu 85.21 million including the evasion penalties and overdue interest calculated of June 30, 2018. The commission, having considered the merit of the evidence as well as the existence of public interest element, forwarded the case to OAG for prosecution on December 31 last year.

Rinzin Wangchuk