Former councilor sentenced to 2.6 years compoundable term

Verdict: Thimphu district court’s bench IV yesterday sentenced former royal advisory councilor, Chang Ugyen to two years and six months imprisonment based on circumstantial evidences for tampering documents to increase the size of his land holding in the 1980’s.

The verdict stated that the prosecutor, Office of the Attorney General (OAG) couldn’t prove “beyond reasonable doubt” that Chang Ugyen’s colluded with former land commission official Sonam Norbu to increase his land holding in Omkha, Changjalu to 3.02 acres from 0.02 decimals, and for registering seven acres of land in Lubding, above Changjalu.

Chang Ugyen has been sentenced, based on circumstantial evidences, as he was the ultimate beneficiary. Although Chang Ugyen knew that the seven acres of government land above his house in Lubding was manipulated, he sold it to five buyers. Despite being fully aware of its illegality, the verdict stated that Chang Ugyen failed to report it to relevant authorities.

Going by the sections Na I and II of the 1958 Thrimzhung Chenmo, Chang Ugyen is liable for three months to six years imprisonment. In absence of the Penal Code then, the Thrimzhung Chenmo was referred. As per the Penal Code 2004, it is a fourth degree felony with imprisonment term from three years to five.

However, as the charges couldn’t be proven beyond reasonable doubts, Chang Ugyen was given two years and six months. He can pay thrimthue in lieu of imprisonment within 10 days or appeal to the High Court.

About 10 years after the High Court closed the case, it was reopened last September. OAG argued that the case was reopened on the basis that civil suits shall not preclude a plaintiff from exercising his or her right to prosecute the same defendant for crimes. The National Land Commission had conducted an inquiry, investigated the case, and forwarded it to the Cabinet after which it was forwarded to the OAG.

OAG charged Chang Ugyen for tampering with documents to increase his 0.02 acres of land in Omkha, Changjula to 3.02 acres, and register a new seven-acre land in Lubding during his tenure as Chang gup from 1987 to 1989. OAG also charged Sonam Norbu for colluding with Chang Ugyen by manipulating and tampering the thrams.

Court findings state that although Chang Ugyen claimed that he inherited the seven-acre land from his parents, he couldn’t prove it and the land was surrendered to the government in 2004 following the High Court verdict.

Sonam Norbu was linked to the case, as he was the land record officer for Chang and Kawang gewog in 1987. The OAG also accused Sonam Norbu of taking a three-acre sokshing land from Chang Ugyen.  OAG also accused Sonam Norbu of taking a no objection certificate from Chang Ugyen to acquire sokshing land in Punakha. Sonam Norbu submitted before the court that the sokshing in Punakha was government land substitute for his mother-in-law, after it took her land for developmental activities.

The verdict states that the court wrote to the forest division inquiring about the sokshing but documents, which were more than 20 years, were disposed off. The court then inquired with the land commission where it reflected 2.56 acres on Chang Ugyen’s thram. However, in 2003, following a high-level investigation on misuse of government lands in Thimphu, the thrams were cancelled.

OAG couldn’t prove beyond reasonable doubts and the same was submitted to the court. The court couldn’t establish the connection between Chang Ugyen and Sonam Norbu’s collusion.

Sonam Norbu was acquitted for lack of concrete evidences on May 14. The verdict, however, states that should OAG find evidences to prove the charges in future, the case can be reopened.

By Kinga Dema