Rinzin Wangchuk 

After reviewing the investigation findings of misappropriation and diversion of funds from the Buddha Dordenma Image Fund (BDIF) for more than 16 months, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) registered a criminal case against Damcho Choden (Anim Damcho) at the Thimphu dzongkhag court yesterday.

The OAG charged the former project manager, Anim Damcho, with 19 counts of misappropriation of project funds maintained with the Bank of Bhutan, Bhutan National Bank, Druk PNB by directly converting into assets or by diverting to her personal account and her family members.

She had grossly misused the project fund for her personal enrichment including Nu 18.920M that she diverted to her accounts from different banks, Nu 4.163M to her siblings and nephew, and Nu 3.215M to her company, Lhaimetog Export and Import, Lhaimetog Tours and Travels.  She had withdrawn Nu 29.044M through a staff of BNB and spent Nu 2.568M on investment in properties.

Among her siblings, according to the OAG chargesheet submitted to the court, her younger sister Kezang Deki had benefitted with Nu 3M from the project fund.  Her younger brother Ugyen also benefitted Nu 950,000.

Anim Damcho purchased a Land Cruiser Prado after receiving the embezzled amount of Nu 2.1M and Nu 0.780M for 0.30 decimal land in Sarpang.

The OAG also charged Anim Damcho with possessing unexplained assets and income.  Although with the project as a manager, Anim Damcho did not have a source of income to explain such huge cash inflows into her account.  She owned a two-storey building in Zilukha, Thimphu, 0.645 acres in Guma gewog, Punakha, and a 9502 sq ft plot at the swimming pool complex in Thimphu.  She also owned two Hiace buses and ran Lhaimetog Export and Import and Lhaimetog Tours and Travels. “These properties are in violation of Anti-Corruption Act, “ the OAG stated.

The OAG pleaded before the court to order Anim Damcho to restitute Nu 58.69M and transfer unexplained properties, which were in her possession to the Buddha Dordenma project.  The prosecutor also petitioned the court to deposit Nu 2.020M earned from selling two Hiace buses to the project fund. 

In 2011, Anim Damcho allegedly embezzled Nu 2.4M from the project fund on the pretext of purchasing a Toyota Fortuner. However, the vehicle was not envisioned to be used for the project, but for private use.  Her nephew, Younten Jamtsho, the CEO of her businesses, used the vehicle.  The OAG submitted that this vehicle should be handed over to the project.

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) received a complaint against Anim Damcho Choden, popularly known as Anim Damcho,  alleging that she had amassed huge wealth through misappropriation of the Buddha Dordenma project fund.

The construction of the 169ft bronze statue of Buddha Shakyamuni and peripheral structures at Kuensel Phodrang, Thimphu was initiated in 2006 after the Cabinet approved the project.  The project was funded by foreign devotees and initiated by  Lam Tsherng Wangdi, the Chairman of Menjong Chothuen Tshogpa.

ACC began investigation on September 5, 2016, however the active operational phase commenced on February 2, 2018.  The commission’s investigation had consolidated and organized its finding along two timelines, one from 2004 to 2008 and another from 2009 to June 2018.

ACC found that, prior to the commencement of the project, Anim Damcho had only Nu 46,447 in one of her saving accounts maintained with BNBL.  After 2004 up until her business operations in 2009, she had deposited Nu 19.3M into her saving accounts.

ACC found that the proprietor of Lhaimetog Export and Import, Anim Damchoe, and her nephew Younten Jamtsho, 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 only 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, had exported cordyceps to certain foreign customers in Southeast Asia.

Younten Jamtsho and his staff allegedly falsified and significantly undervalued export invoices, and in many instances, even directed foreign customers to wire transfer the money to personal bank accounts.

ACC determined that, by 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.  Kuensel learnt that OAG is charging separately on tax evasion.

ACC forwarded the case to the Office of the Attorney General on September 13, 2019.

Meanwhile, Kuensel learnt that the OAG has asked the new management of the project to continue the remaining work at Kuenselphodrang.