ACC investigates 74 suspicious bank accounts

To ascertain the legality of more than INR 107M of demonetised notes 

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) is reportedly questioning and ascertaining the legality of sources for more than INR 107.435 million (M) of demonetised notes deposited in 74 bank accounts.

It has been learnt that of the total amount deposited in the 74 accounts that is under the preview of the ACC, Nu 69.175M were “highly suspicious accounts” of 10 individuals.

ACC officials said that the commission has assigned a team of senior officials to look into the INR deposits after the Royal Monetary Authority of Bhutan (RMA) forwarded 700 INR accounts to ACC and another 725 accounts to the Department of Revenue and Customs (DRC) for review.

There were 27,000 accounts with INR 1.6 billion deposited in various financial institutions in the country during the demonetisation of INR notes.

The commission has reportedly categorised 700 suspicious accounts into four different types – dormant accounts where no transactions were recorded until the demonetisation issue, accounts with repeated transactions on multiple bank accounts, related party bank accounts where families and relatives had deposited INR, and new accounts that were opened during the time of demonetisation.

As of now, the commission has cleared 626 INR deposits amounting to Nu 200M, where the INR account holders are allowed to withdraw their deposits in Ngultrums after the review began on April 5.

According to an ACC official, the team is currently ascertaining the remaining INR account holders to ensure the sources and establish that the deposits were made legally.

“Our team is looking into whether the deposits were made in compliance with the existing laws, foreign exchange rules and regulations,” ACC officials said. For instance, cash deposited by business houses are being investigated on whether transactions were routed through proper banking channel and if tax was declared. If people had carried cash, the ACC is also examining if it is legitimate or not by checking whether they had declared at the entry point.

The ACC could not contact about 30 account holders and also claimed that the depositors who were called for investigation did not cooperate. “They don’t give convincing reasons and have no proper evidences,” an ACC official said.

He said it is difficult to trace people because account holders did not provide proper address and contact numbers. A woman had deposited INR 1M and given her friend’s contact number. On enquiry, the friend claimed that she does not know the woman’s whereabouts.

“Because of these issues, the case is going to take longer although our team works round the clock,” he said. “This is the main challenge the ACC is facing just now to move forward.”

Kuensel also learnt that there are several individuals including a taxi driver depositing more than INR 1M in their accounts. A woman has reportedly deposited INR 20M.

In one case, INR 25M was deposited from multiple accounts belonging to the same family members.

RMA governor Dasho Penjore said that bank accounts, which were frozen was bifurcated based on the amount. Some accounts were forwarded to the ACC for review to examine any element of corruption, malpractice and money laundering. Some accounts related to business firms were also forwarded to the DRC to check if due diligence was followed with regard to tax payment.

“These is being done to ensure that money in the unfrozen accounts are clean money,” Dasho Penjore said. “Only after the relevant authorities clear the issues, the accounts will be cleared for normal transaction.”

Since the 725 accounts forwarded to the DRC involve a huge amount, it could not be ascertained if a deposit of INR 78M was cleared for one business house. DRC director Yonten Namgyel in an SMS stated that the department does not have the authority to freeze or unfreeze the accounts and advised Kuensel to follow up with the RMA.

Kuensel however, learnt that the DRC has cleared all 725 accounts forwarded to them. Since the letter of undertaking signed by the depositors clearly states that the depositors must return the amount and guarantees to the relevant authorities, including the banks to recover the amount if on further investigation found illegal. The DRC will then implicate the suspects if it comes across such cases in future.

If the suspected account holders do not provide substantial evidence and convincing reasons, ACC officials said that the commission would recommend the RMA to seize the money deposited as per the foreign exchange rules and regulations. Bank officials said that they are allowing people to withdraw Ngultrum against the INR based on the list the central bank had provided them.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said that the Reserve Bank of India has given exception to Bhutan when it comes to releasing of countervalue notes for demonested INR notes.  Indian government also supported us with trust and confidence that Bhutan will followed due deligence in the process.

“Following due deligence is not just a responsibility but it is required by our own laws,” he said. “Therefore, while it is extremely inconvenient for those afftected by the delay in ascertaining the INR deposit accounts, we should also draw confidence from the fact that as long as due deligence is followed the counter-value of the amount given to Bhutan is clean,” the Prime Minister said.

Meanwhile, the central bank has lifted the lien on the withdrawal of Ngultrum counter-value against the public deposits of the demonetised INR notes on May 8. It had frozen the accounts following the demonetisation of Rs 500 and 1000 banknotes by the government of India on November 8 last year.

Rinzin Wangchuk

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