Phuentsholing court sentenced a non-Bhutanese man to seven years in prison for misusing Bhutanese ATM cards and withdrawing INR 106.32 million (M) between 2012 and 2015 when Bhutan suffered severe INR shortage.

On August 20, 2015, ACC detained Sanjeev Kumar Gupta, 35, from Jaigaon for possessing 286 Bhutanese ATM cards.

Sanjeev Kumar Gupta through 50 local individuals collected 320 ATM cards. He paid Nu 1,500 to each person to open a bank account and paid another Nu 2,000 on receiving the ATM cards.

Sanjeev Kumar Gupta collected ngultrums from shopkeepers in India and deposited them in the accounts. Then, using the ATM cards, he withdraw INR from ATMs in Jaigaon. He then sold the INR at two to eight percent above the exchange rate. ACC investigation found that he paid five percent commission to ATM cardholders. The investigation estimated his monthly transaction amounted to INR 2.86 million with a monthly income of INR 0.3 million.

Sanjiv Kumar Gupta did not appear at court hearings after he was granted bail. The court sentenced him in absentia on May 11.

The court ruled that as the defendant had failed to attend the court hearings, which affected the trial process, and has been found guilty of illegally withdrawing INR, the bail money, Nu 0.2 million with ACC could be forfeited. The court found Sanjeev Kumar Gupta guilty of a third degree felony.

As per the Penal Code of Bhutan section 18 on valued based sentencing, he was guilty of third degree felony and he is liable to prison terms ranging between five to nine years.

Section 18 states that an offence graded as value based, a felony of the third degree, if the value or the amounts involved in the crime exceed the total amount of the daily minimum national wage rate at the time of the crime for a period of thirty years or more.

However, the defendant did not have any prior criminal record. Therefore, the court sentenced him to seven years in prison.

The OAG’s prosecutor, Kinley Gyeltshen, argued that the defendant should also pay the interest on the Nu 106.32M that he had withdrawn at the bank’s lending interest rate of 9.5 percent, which amounts to Nu 10,366,406.

The court ruled that as the transactions were between Indian and Bhutanese banks, the interest penalty would not apply to the defendant. The charge has been so deferred.

Tshering Palden