Court opens JPLP to business

ACC cautions that such act should not let people to perceive leniency in the rule of law

ACC: The Phuentsholing dungkhag court has produced a court order stating that Jatan Prasad Lal Chand Prasad (JPLP) departmental store can operate its business starting September 17, the same day its owner Lal Chand was released on bail.

The court order states that Lal Chand can continue his business as a regular entity as it was before. As of yesterday evening, the store was busy with labourers replacing the expired goods with new items. Store officials said the shop would open to customers tomorrow.

Dungkhag court officials said the license in particular issued to JPLP did not have any problem. Should the license be a case of fronting, the case would have changed. The tax evasion issue is however under process in court, officials said.

JPLP can also use its three bank accounts with the BoB, Druk PNB and BNB, the court has maintained. However, the accounts were emptied as the money that existed was reserved as security to the bail amount, it has been learnt.

The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) had filed a case against Lal Chand at the Phuentsholing dungkhag court on September 4, including owners of four other business entities from the town.  Lal Chand is charged for tax evasion, deflection of goods, false invoicing and declaration of goods.

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) had detained Lal Chand since June 17 for allegedly evading tax amounting to more than Nu 184 million between 2011 and 2014. As nobody was willing to come forward as his guarantor and pay Nu 184 million, the commission also had denied a bail for Lal Chand.

Attorney General (AG) Shera Lhundup after the release decision and the bail amount was finalised had told Kuensel that the bail amount of Nu 80 million was inclusive of Lal Chand’s Phuentsholing building worth Nu 7.5 million and Nu 10.47 million from collection due from Bhutanese.

The AG yesterday said that regardless of race, religion or nationality, each man must be given what is his due.

“Thus, as long as the license term is not violated by its lawful holder, its legitimacy does not come under question,” AG Shera Lhundup said, adding that is the consistent ruling delivered through centuries of practice by the law giver, the monarchs. “Who are we to construe otherwise now, particularly when it is expressly for the good of the people?”

On April 21 this year, the commission closed JPLP for business. The commission until today has suspended business for about 35 shops in connection to alleged corruption, which involved officials from the regional and revenue customs office in Phuentsholing.

An ACC official said the OAG is the country’s ultimate legality testing office, while ACC, as an investigation agency is not expected to arbitrate on the legality determination made by the Royal Court of Justice and OAG on license terms.

“However, it is important to bear in mind that our common objective must be and should be to reduce and eliminate corrupt practices in our society to the extent possible,” the official said.

The ACC official added, that at the end of the day, the general populace should not have the perception of leniency with respect to the rule of law by the law enforcement agencies to be corrupt. “What can be nipped at the bud may require an axe to fell at a later stage,” the official said. “This should not happen at all cost in a GNH nation.”

The court proceedings of these five business establishments would begin next month. It will be heard by the drangpon of Chukha district court. Lal Chand has reportedly hired a Bhutanese lawyer, Bhutan Law Services to represent him before the court.

As JPLP store is opening tomorrow, many local businessmen are also talking about the case and how it has evolved to date.

However, Phuentsholing business committee representative Phuntsho Wangdi said it seemed strange to observe one arm of the state reprimanding corrupt practices and the other being lenient.  “Such a scenario will only destroy the confidence of public in the rule of law,” he said.

Rajesh Rai,  Phuentsholing

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