Yearender/ACC: Either the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) is going gung ho in its fight against corruption, or corruption is on the rise, going by the cases in the commission’s hand.

The year of the horse saw several high profile cases, like the lhakhang Karpo issue, Gelephu dungpa’s embezzlement and fraudulent case, illegal transaction of land, corruption in immigration service, and currency trading, come under the ACC scanner.

The lhakhang Karpo corruption case is already in court, prompting some to question how the foreign minister got his clearance when he joined politics in 2013.  The alleged corruption issue was already in the limelight, as the Bhutanese media had extensively covered it, and the case was with ACC.

ACC had suspended nine business and contract licenses of six business entities involved in the lhakhang Karpo case and other dzongkhag construction activities.

Considered one of the most serious and biggest embezzlement and fraud cases in 2014, ACC has indicted Gelephu dungpa Pema Wangdi and six other accomplices on 253 counts, ranging from official misconduct and corruption to fraud and embezzlement.  In the 500-page report, complete with evidence, one of the grave charges against the dungpa was the alleged embezzlement of Nu 10.736M, a fund generated from Losel cinema hall in Gelephu.

Attention then switched to the alleged illegal land transaction cases involving former Chang gup Naku and former land registration director Tshewang Gyeltshen.  Investigations are still ongoing.  ACC has so far frozen 18.98 acres of land belonging to 24 people in Thimphu, since it began investigation on the alleged corrupt land dealings in mid October last year.

ACC officials said it would take more time to complete its investigation, as more and more illegal transactions of land are being unearthed.

In 2014, ACC also exposed a larger and deeply entrenched systemic corruption in the immigration service in Phuentsholing, and suspended 12 immigration inspectors and two officers, with 23 foreign worker recruitment agencies (FWRA) in Phuentsholing, in August last year.

Its investigation uncovered two distinct schemes, one at the entry level, and another at the time of exit, after the ACC investigated a case involving several taxi drivers, police personnel and immigration inspectors at Tanalum check post.  They allegedly received bribes in relation to the illegal exit of absconding foreign workers.

ACC, through OAG, also charged 13 people involved in repatriating INR 70.056M from Druk PNB Bank ltd. branch in Thimphu and illegal trading of currency.  Three prime accused, two Indians from Jaigaon and a senior executive officer of Druk PNB branch, one government driver and nine private individuals were charged with bribery, forgery, tampering of documents, aiding and abetting.

ACC, during its investigation in February and March, established that the prime accused, a 29-year old man from Jaigaon, persuaded many people in Thimphu to obtain micro trade licenses and open current deposit (CD) and saving accounts at the Druk PNB branch to help him repatriate INR between May 2012 and January 2014.

ACC also forwarded four cases to OAG for prosecution, such as an embezzlement case amounting to Nu 130.403M at the Royal Bhutan Embassy in Bangkok, misuse of money from the sale of spare parts of vehicles salvaged by two RICBL officials, immigration case and INR repatriation in Phuentsholing. OAG officials said they are reviewing the reports to frame charges against the alleged individuals.

The horse year also saw ACC challenged by Nima Construction suspending its contract license for two years as “arbitrary and unconstitutional” and a petition was filed with the High Court for an injunction.  The HC, however, dismissed Nima’s petition on September 1.  Nima Construction’s contract license was suspended in connection with two contract works, where the firm had committed offenses through deceptive practices.

ACC also appealed to the Supreme Court, after the HC gave back the land in Gyalpoizhing belonging to the National Assembly speaker, Jigme Zangpo. The High Court on December 2 overruled the Mongar district court judgment, stating that speaker Jigme Zangpo’s ancestral land, measuring more the three acres, was acquired for the Kurichu project, and requested for a land substitute through a petition.

61 top public officials, including the ministers of education, health and foreign, two secretaries and presidents, 41 chairmen of various agencies, a drangpon, seven executive directors, a chief executive officer, and Druk Chirwang Tshogpa president had failed to declare their assets, even after a month-long grace period.

Meanwhile, Bhutan maintained its clean image and succeeded in remaining on top among South Asian countries in the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) 2014, according to Transparency International’s annual index.  Bhutan scored 65 points and has been ranked 30th among 175 countries in the global corruption index.

Rinzin Wangchuk