… OAG reviews 26 ACC’s cases for probable prosecution

Rinzin Wangchuk 

The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) saw an increase in the number of criminal cases from 544 cases involving 939 defendants referred by the investigating agencies in 2021 to 659 cases with 1,300 defendants in 2022.

Of the total 659 prosecutorial referrals, according to OAG annual report 2022 released on January 24, 623 cases involving 1,139 defendants were forwarded by Royal Bhutan Police, 27 cases with 130 defendants were referred from Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), and nine cases involving 31 defendants were made by other government agencies.

The report stated that 228 defendants were convicted and three acquitted, 60 cases were returned to investigating agencies, 19 defendants involved a child in conflict with law (CICL) cases have been routed through diversion, four cases were deferred, 196 cases are pending before trial courts and appellate courts at various levels of proceedings, and 132 cases are still under review with the office.

The state prosecutor also reviewed 26 of the 27 cases received from ACC in 2022 with one case pending before the court. And of the nine cases received from ministries and other agencies, six cases are still being reviewed by OAG, one returned and two cases were closed.

Highlights of cases

The year 2022 also saw some notable cases pertaining to sedition, sexual offences, and drug-trafficking cases. About 12 defendants were convicted ranging from three years to 25 years in prison.

The Paro dzongkhag court sentenced consecutively to 25 years in prison a 46-year-old man who was found guilty of all charges framed against him in sedition, libel, impersonation of an official, and escape from lawful custody.  He was arrested in August last year.

The defendant, who was referred to Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital (JDWNRH) in Thimphu with a police escort, escaped through the window of the hospital toilet on October 24. However, he was re-arrested the next day from Chang Gidaphu, Thimphu.

In a vehicle hiring scam, a 32-year-old woman from Trashiyangtse and two other accomplices were convicted for breach of trust, forgery and deceptive practice on several accounts. They deceived the victims under the pretext of hiring their vehicles and then sold them by forging agreements.

The Punakha dzongkhag court on August 18, 2022, sentenced them consecutively with a minimum of 26 years in prison and ordered them to pay a compensation of Nu 8.576M to victims. OAG stated that all the defendants appealed to High Court against the trial court’s judgment praying for concurrent sentencing and lesser compensation. The appellate court on September 19 in its judgment reduced the sentence to 13 years and 11 years respectively. However, the restitution amount remains the same.

Offence against children and women

The crimes committed against children and women are some of the most troubling crimes that OAG is dealing with firmly as it is most devastating to the victims and society at large. These crimes include sexual offences, rape, domestic violence, human-trafficking and child abuse. “Amongst those cases that are taken before the court, the prosecutors are committed to bringing the offenders to justice,” the report stated.

A 20-year-old woman in Thimphu received a three-year jail term in August 2022 for unlawful abortion.  The OAG charged her with involuntary manslaughter. After an unsuccessful attempt at abortion, according to the report, the defendant gave birth to a live baby. She then wrapped the baby in plastic and placed it inside a cabinet beneath the toilet sink ultimately causing the death of the child. The incident happened in January last year.

In the human-trafficking case, the state prosecutor charged one woman with five counts of trafficking in persons and pleaded for a maximum sentence for each count. The defendant, who is a victim of human-trafficking herself, through social media, deceptively enticed five women whom she knew well to work overseas by providing false information and promises.

Four women had been repatriated by the government while one of them returned after paying the bondage of US Dollar 4,000 to the company by herself.

The OAG also noted that there was a decrease in the number of rape of minor case referrals by 1.7 percent in comparison to 2021. “While this is an inconsequential difference, we see significant improvements made in this area, and it will be a priority for us in the year ahead,” the state prosecutor in its annual report stated.

Of the 22 dedicated and experienced prosecutors, seven are assigned to prosecute corruption-related offences referred by ACC.