All accused in Trongsa land case deny ACC charges

All 10 accused for illegal land transaction in Trongsa denied the charges by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) during the opening statement hearing on June 5 at the Trongsa dzongkhag court.

The prime accused, Lhab Dorji and his wife Karma Tshetim Dema submitted to the court that all charges by ACC are untrue and that the investigation itself was conducted unfairly. “ACC has defamed and caused damages to my livelihood,” Lhab Dorji said. “Its ethics should be questioned for doing such a bias investigation.”

The then Trongsa dzongdag, Lhab Dorji said he respects ACC as a constitutional institution but it is disheartening to see them work that way.

Lhab Dorji said ACC did not give him enough time to explain during investigation. “It was a Trongsap who lodged the complaint and it was also a Trongsap who investigated,” he said adding that the investigation was based on favouritism.

He submitted to the court that he had not forged or tampered documents nor misused his power with regard to this land case. “A land committee was set up in the dzongkhag who looked into any land related issues,” he said.

Lhab Dorji said the commission has also accused him of holding payment of land compensation until his wife could buy the land. “The payment was delayed since the amount of land required for the establishment of the College of Language and Culture studies kept changing several times,” he said adding that was why the amount of compensation also changed.

He denied an allegation of having paid Nu 45,000 to one of the landowners, Gyem, at Shambala hotel. He was accused to have paid the land price saying it was compensation from the government. “I never made her sign any documents and I have never met her in my life either,” he said.

Lhab Dorji said the internal agreement between his wife and Gyem was signed much before. “It’s baseless allegation and untrue and I don’t know which document she is referring to,” he said.

Karma Tshetim Dema’s response to the charge sheet stated that ACC has taken the investigation with an intention to cause damage to her business.  She requested the court to hold ACC liable for the entire loss that she has incurred to date.

It also stated that she had decided to sell the guest house to Tangsibji Hydro Energy Limited (THEL) since the business did not do well. They had decided the price at Nu 233 million (M) but ACC objected the transaction before the board members of THEL could finalise to purchase it.

“Banks have already taken us to court and few verdicts have been passed,” her charge sheet stated.  “My relatives’ properties that were put as collateral for the loan are at risk of being seized by the banks today.” She also requested the court to see if ACC has a freezing order.

Lhab Dorji also accused ACC of having shared their investigation report. A newspaper published the report showing 20 false allegations against him. He requested the court to execute a Bah (affidavit) of Nu 15M for each allegation, which amounted to about Nu 300M.

The Drangpon did not accept the request to execute a Bah saying that it was against due process and principles of fair trial. ACC representatives also refused the execution of a Bah.

Her response also stated that the ACC should buy the resort at Nu 300M if allegations turn out to be false. She calculated the annual turnover at Nu 6.5M and said that she has incurred a loss of Nu 19M since the guest house was frozen about three years ago.

Lhab Dorji also submitted to court that he would register a case against Gyem for undermining and disrespecting the court verdict that was passed for the land transaction then.

There are four charges of forgery against Lhab Dorji, three for official misconduct and a charge for execution of documents through deception.

Lhab Dorji’s wife, Karma Tshetim Dema, is the second prime accused and faced four charges of forgery and solicitation each and an offense related to a witness.

Phuntsho, who was the then Nubi gup is charged for forgery while Narayan Dangal is charged for aiding and abetting the crime and for official misconduct.

Former Drakteng Gup, Tenzin, who is also charged in the case admitted to have given his thumb impression on behalf of the landowner with authorisation and was not forged. He is charged for four forgery and three deceptive charges and a charge of solicitation.

The former Drangpon, Ugyen Tenzin is also charged for forgery. He submitted to court that he did not sign for his wife in authorising the land transaction by his mother-in-law. “I did not sign but wrote the name of my wife on the document,” he said.

The other four accused charged for official misconduct are Kezang Nima, who was a surveyor of the National Land Commission, Wangchula and Kinleyla who served as tshogpas and Tashi Penden.

Kezang Nima, who surveyed Karma Tshetim Dema’s land at the Thumang said he surveyed the area, which was fenced. Other tshogpas and gups involved also said they signed on the survey forms as the system required.

They said they did not gain anything by doing that and should not be held liable for any crime.

Karma Tshetim Dema, in her rebuttal, also alleged that the ACC had resorted to unethical means of investigation by detaining junior NLC officials for having telephonic conversation with her.

She alleged that ACC traced the calls by illegal means and questioned whether ACC obtained permission from court to trace the phone calls. “Such unethical actions of eavesdropping and surveillance by ACC is tantamount to breach of privacy and violating section 19 of article seven of the Constitution.

The issue arose when sometime in 1997, the education ministry decided to shift the College of Language and Culture Studies from Semtokha in Thimphu to Taktse under Drakteng gewog in Trongsa. For land acquisition purposes, a Land Acquisition Committee (LAC) was constituted by Trongsa dzongkhag with 11 members including the dzongdag and Dragteng gup.

In 2011, a Trongsa resident Gyem filed a case against Karma Tshetim Dema at the Trongsa court but it was dismissed as the same court had adjudicated the matter before. She then lodged a complaint with ACC in April 2013.

The rebuttal will be held on June 29.

Nima Wangdi | Trongsa

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