The Anti-Corruption Commission’s (ACC) investigation, which implicates former labour minister for corrupt practices in the overseas employment programme in India was unable to establish ‘quid pro quo’ relationship between former labour minister and Manav Dhingra, head of operations for International Institute of Hospitality and Wellness Studies (IIWS).

This was because former minister Ngeema Sangay Tshempo was not a member of tender evaluation or ministerial tender committee (MTC) according to the ACC. The official said the investigation was not able to reveal or prove (beyond reasonable doubt) how former Lyonpo had influenced the MTC or favoured Manav Dhingra by accepting valuable gifts from him.

According to the ACC, the former minister accepted jewelry worth INR 156,983 from prohibited source, Manav. The investigation found that sometime in 2015, the former labour minister while on his overseas trip had transited from New Delhi where he met and asked Manav to arrange for a gemstone and rudraksh rosary.

“It was found that although Manav had arranged the gemstones and rudraksh rosary, he has not made any payments to date,” ACC said. “Manav had informed the team that the items worth INR 350,000 were arranged two years back but the payment is still outstanding and it was not given as a gift.”

When a team conducted a search at the former lyonpo’s residence on June 27, 2018, the team found a yellow gemstone and a rudraksh rosary. The items were seized.

ACC said that the former lyonpo confessed to have received a gemstone and the rudraksh rosary from Manav sometime in December 2015 at Hotel Taj, India. “He claimed that he bought the items but do not remember Manav giving him the bill for settlement. He instead claimed that the prices for the item was only Nu 7000 for the rudraksh rosary and Nu 15,000 for the gemstone.”

The team had approached the jewelry shop in Chandni Chowk, Delhi where the owner of Eurasia Jewellers, Ashish Malhotra said that the cost of gemstone was INR 85,000 then and rudraksh rosary was INR 71,983 then.

Although the ACC was unable to establish quid pro quo, favour in return for a favour, the commission has decided to forfeit the items and treat the items as state property in accordance with Section 68 of the Gift Rules of Bhutan 2009. The accepting of gift was found to be in conflict with his position as then labour minister and in violation of sections 7(a) and (b), 8 (a) and (b), and 10.

The team also could not establish on why the former lyonpo had availed leave absence when the former government asked the ACC to investigate the various training programmes that the ministry initiated.

The investigation team also found that Manav used to pay courtesy visits at former lyonpo’s residence at the Ministers’ Enclave where they discussed business ideas and placement of youth. During one of the visits, sometime in 2016, former lyonpo had proposed to jointly set up earth moving equipment-hiring business according to Manav’s statement.

“Manav said that former lyonpo had proposed a number of business ideas and asked him to finance or be his business partner and he eventually agreed for an excavator hiring business and decided to invest INR 3 million,” ACC official said. “It was found that former minister had asked Manav to look for a Bhutanese citizen who could be used as his front/proxy to operate the business.”

The investigation found that a business, M/s Tshomo Hiring was established on April 15 2016 and registered jointly in the name of Dilu Giri, a manager of Druk Hotel, representing Manav and Pema Tshomo Sherpa, former lyonpo’s niece, representing former lyonpo.

However, ACC said the real beneficial owners were former lyonpo and his wife, Namgay Lhamo. Dilu Giri confirmed this in his second statement where he was supposed to get 30 percent of the earnings. Dilu Giri had even visited former lyonpo’s office to understand the business proposition.

ACC official said the source of payments made to purchase excavator also confirms that Pema Tshomo Sherpa and Dilu Giri are not the genuine owners where Dilu Giri admitted to deposit an advance of Nu 2.640 million in May 2016 to purchase excavator from M/s Continental Bhutan Enterprise, Phuentsholing. The total cost for the excavator was Nu 6.600 million.

“This, he confessed that Manav had given him INR 3 million through intermediary. After paying the advance, he had handed over the balance of INR 0.360 million to Namgay Lhamo to bear the transportation cost and miscellaneous expenses. The final payment was financed through BNBL loan sanctioned in the name of Pema Tshomo Sherpa who was unemployed at that time and received Nu 5,250 monthly stipend.”

It was also found that Pema Tshomo Sherpa instantly forwarded all the text messages received from BoBL pertaining to M/s Tshomo Hiring’s bank account and payments to Namgay Lhamo. When Pema Tshomo Sherpa left for Japan in 2017, Namgay Lhamo operated the business through a power of attorney.

Although she denied the allegation, the former minister’s wife later admitted and confessed to borrowing Nu 3,000,000 from Sonam Dukpa, popularly known as Goob Sonam Dukpa to buy the excavator. However, former lyonpo denied the entire allegation including discussion to establish business.

Investigation established that former lyonpo not only solicited investments amounting to INR 3 million but also engaged in conduct that was in conflict with his public position as then labour minister and concealed his asset, income, and liabilities in his asset declaration for the year 2017.

The former minister told Kuensel that he would comment on the findings at a later date.

Yangchen C Rinzin