Show cause hearing

A total of 26 owners or representatives of the seized movable properties are expected to submit their reasons to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) to not auction their properties.

The commission summoned owners of the movable properties, which were seized during the course of investigations into various offences and corrupt practices over the last five years, for a show cause hearing last week. “We gave them a two week deadline to submit why the investigating and prosecuting agencies should not be selling their properties through a public auction,” ACC’s commissioner Jamtsho said.

This decision to auction seized properties before completing adjudication in the court of law, according to the ACC officials, comes after the commission faced serious challenges in taking care and ensuring the safety of seized goods and properties. The commission also discussed this issue with the Office of the Attorney General (OAG).

In an earlier interview, Attorney General Shera Lhundup said that OAG was in favour of early disposal of the seized properties to avoid lost in revenue for the state as well as the owners. “The longer the properties are impounded, the bigger the drop in the value of properties,” he said then.

Attorney General also suggested that the owners of the seized properties be allowed to participate in the auction and later claim the amount if he or she is acquitted by the court of law.

ACC officials said that the commission would go ahead with the decision if they were not satisfied with the justifications provided by the owners of the seized properties. “We may work with Department of National Properties (DNP) to auction those seized properties,” commissioner Jamtsho said.

Empowered by the Anti-Corruption Act 2011, ACC can seize any movable property that the commission has reasonable grounds to suspect to be the subject matter of an offence or evidence relating to the offence during the course of an investigation.

The Act also states that if movable property seized is liable to speedy decay or deterioration, or is property which cannot be maintained without difficulty, or is not practicable to be maintained, the commission may sell and shall hold the proceeds of the sale, after deducting the costs and expenses of the maintenance and sale of the property.

Commissioner Jamtsho also said that all proceeds from auction would be deposited in the “Escrow Account” which will be created specially for the seized properties, until all legal proceedings are completed.

Seized movable properties

There are more than 21 vehicles, including a bulldozer and three motorbikes the ACC seized over the years, that are collecting dust and rusting at different locations in Thimphu, Phuentsholing, Samdrupjongkhar, Khangma in Trashigang and Panbang in Zhemgang.

Of the two Tata tripper trucks the ACC impounded near the Samdrupjongkhar dzongkhag court, one tripper was filled with garbage when Kuensel visited the site in early April this year. The two trippers were seized from the former Gelephu drungpa in 2014. The ACC also seized his Hundai i20 car and impounded the car at the ACC’s office basement.

The commission also seized a Grand Vitara and impounded the vehicle at Bhutan Telecom office in Samdrupjongkhar in connection with the alleged embezzlement of Nu 1.6M by the officer-in-charge Karma Chojay at the telecom exchange office in Wamrong, Trashigang. The car was seized in December 2016.

A Maruti Van was impounded in Khangma, Trashigang, after the ACC found that the Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited’s depot in Nganglam misappropriated more than Nu 5M.

The highest number of vehicles was seized from Bhutan Development Bank Limited’s (BDBL) project officer Pema Nidup for unauthorised enhancement of overdraft (OD) and a term loan amounting to Nu 576.469M between 2013 and 2016. Impounded vehicles at BDBL parking lot in Thimphu include a bulldozer, a Toyota Hilux, two Veloster cars and three Royal Enfield motorbikes.

Two Hyundai Santafee, a Hyundai Tucson and a Maruti Alto are impounded at the Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan Limited’s (RICBL) parking lot. These vehicles were seized from RICBL’s Paro branch supervisor Rinchen Wangdi and accomplices, who were alleged to have embezzled Nu 113M within a period of three years.

ACC officials in an earlier interview with Kuensel had said that delay in prosecution by the OAG and prolonged adjudication in the court of law has delayed clearing of the seized properties.

National Assembly’s decision

The commission also recommended establishing a separate agency to take care of goods and properties seized by the ACC and other relevant agencies. However, the National Assembly on November 15, 2016 shot down ACC’s recommendation and resolved that the law enforcement agencies should continue to manage seized goods and properties

The seventh session of the NA instructed the finance ministry to study the recommendation of the assembly’s good governance committee and submit a report. The good governance committee recommended the ministry to establish a division under the DNP to manage the goods and properties by the law enforcement agencies.

However, the finance minister submitted to the NA that DNP was not the right agency to manage seized goods and properties but was responsible to maintain and dispose national properties after the legal proceedings are complete.

ACC officials had said that if there was a separate agency to take care of the goods and properties seized either by the ACC, police, department of forest or department of revenue and customs or drug regulatory authority then the law enforcement agencies could focus on investigations.

“Since the Parliament did not endorse our recommendation, ACC is helpless now and so are the seized properties,” commissioner Jamtsho said.

Rinzin Wangchuk