… Tshedung Damtshig Welfare Foundation collected Nu 6.3 million

Lhakpa Quendren | Gelephu  

Gelephu drungkhag court ordered freezing of Nu 2.43 million (M) in a suspected illegal online crowdfunding case involving Drungtsho Tshering Penjor and three other defendants.

The court convicted Drungtsho Tshering Penjor to three months and the other three parties to 45 days in prison depending on the degree of their involvement in the fraud.

According to the judgment passed on March 13, the three defendants—Aumber Bahadur Mongar, Chimi Dema, and Chungku Wangmo—were involved in collecting membership fees and other associated activities of the online foundation group.

The court ordered that the frozen money of Nu 2.43M be deposited into the government account within 10 days from the date of the court order.

The frozen money includes Nu 2.37M from the suspended bank account of the foundation with the Bhutan Development Bank (BDBL) and Nu 61,300 spent on the procurement of office equipment—laptop, LaserJet printer, and computer papers.

The Royal Bhutan Police petitioned to the court to freeze the money donated through suspected online illegal crowdfunding.

Drungtsho Tshering Penjor initiated an online welfare foundation ‘Tshedung Damtshig’ in 2020 and collected a membership fee of Nu 1,500 each from the 4,202 members.

The online group used WeChat and Telegram to collect Nu 6.3 million of which Nu 3.7M has been disbursed to 52 members for a bereavement support. 

The online group was initiated to help the bereaved with financial support. If a member died the group paid Nu 100,000, and Nu 50,000 for the death of their nominees.

The judgment stated that the group was unable to register as a non-governmental organisation with the Civil Society Organisations Authority (CSOA) in 2021 and the initiative was in violation of the Civil Organisations Act of Bhutan 2007.

While the foundation is currently in the process of registration, an application for approval from the authorities—CSOA and the Department of Law and Order—is required to raise funds.

The money was collected after obtaining the approval of the name and logo for the welfare foundation and paying a registration fee of Nu 3,000 to the finance ministry in 2021.

However, the judgment stated that the foundation was initiated with good intention to benefit the humble people, but the initiators failed to obtain approval from the relevant authorities.

The defendants in the statement refuted that the group did not seek any donations from the public and private offices.

Following a complaint on social media from Langchenphu Gup Guman Singh Gaylal on suspected online illegal crowdfunding, the foundation’s bank account with the BDBL was suspended.

Despite knowing about the bank account suspension and the foundation’s unsuccessful registration, Aumber Bahadur Mongar, Chimi Dema, and Chungku Wangmo opened a joint bank account with the BDBL and Bhutan National Bank and collected membership fees, according to the judgment.

The convicts submitted that since the initial bank account remained suspended for over a year, the other accounts were opened for the disbursement of death-related financial support to 138 members since they were facing threats from the victim’s family.

According to the judgment, it also suspected that the money collected from the members was deposited to the bank accounts of four individuals before the opening of accounts for the foundation.

The convicts claimed that the formal group for the foundation was formed after the members agreed to the initiative during a thorough discussion in an informal social media group.

The procurement of the office equipment, according to the defendants, is for the purpose of works related to the foundation. But the judgment states it was procured without consultation with the members.

Meanwhile, the court denied police’s request to increase the sentence term of Drungtsho Tshering Penjor from a pretty misdemeanour to misdemeanour for his earlier involvement in the alleged misuse of the Semchen Tshethar Tshogpa’s fund.

The court stated that the current illegal online crowdfunding occurred in 2020 which was before two cases related to Semchen Tshethar Tshogpa happened in 2021 and 2022.

The convicts can pay thrimthue in lieu of their prison terms and appeal against the judgment to the dzongkhag court if they are not satisfied with it within 10 days from the date of the judgment.

Online allegations

Many members of the Tshedung Damtshig welfare foundation took to social media to share their grievances after Drungtsho Tshering Penjor shared about the freezing of money in a Telegram group with 5,157 members on March 16.

“Our group collapsed from the day the court verdict was passed by Gelephu court. We cannot operate the group anymore and our account was canceled. The balance amount was seized,” he said.

“We tried our best to fight the case for the last four months but ended the case with zero outcomes,” Tshering Penjor said. “As we all know that there is no one above the law, let us respect the law of our land as always.”

Claiming that the foundation group initially has about 10,000 to 15,000 members, one member said that he deposited two installments amounting to Nu 3,000. “If it is true, all court verdicts should be published to the group. Why didn’t the court question other members?”

Another member commented, “My mother was one of those innocent contributors. She felt that this was such a great cause for families who would benefit. There were many from my place who contributed to help their families later but it all went down the drain.”

“The court just can’t seize the money and not return to those who deposited the money. Many times my neighbour handed me the cash and I did mBoB to the group’s account. It is truly heartbreaking,” she added.