Their defense has it that ACC coerced self-implicating admissions out of them

Update: In the ongoing Lhakhang Karpo corruption case, three defendants claimed that the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) had taken their statements under “duress and coercion,” during a cross-examination hearing on March 19 at the Haa district court.

“That’s why our submissions to court and the statements provided to ACC contradict,” the Lhakhang Karpo project engineer, Tashi Gyeltshen, who has been charged with soliciting two bribes, submitted to the court.

The court conducted its second cross-examination hearing, after Tashi Gyeltshen and sand supplier Tshewang Rinzin submitted conflicting statements against their bribery charges, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) had framed based on ACC’s findings.

OAG’s prosecutor said that Tshewang Rinzin had offered Nu 100,000 to Tashi Gyeltshen to accept the poor quality sand collected from the IMTRAT helipad area.  The project engineer, however, claimed that the amount was collected from Tshewang Rinzin and retained as security deposit in his personal account.

Both defendants had admitted that they solicited each other with bribes when ACC interrogated them.  However, the duo denied soliciting and receiving a bribe of Nu 100,000 in court.

Tshewang Rinzin was awarded a contract work to supply sand for the Lhakhang Karpo project on June 17, 2011.  He claimed he had extracted 120 truckloads of sand from the riverbanks of the Haachu and kept at the helipad area.  Tshewang Rinzin then requested Tashi Gyelthsen to pass the bill for 120 trips.

Tashi Gyeltshen claimed that, since the sand was not sieved, he had asked him to claim for 70 trips only.  He returned the security deposit of Nu 100,000 to Tshewang Rinzin ,only after the supplier had properly sieved the sand.

However, Tshewang Rinzin said he claimed and received the payment of Nu 705,839 for 70 trucks before sieving the sand.  He also said he borrowed Nu 40,000 from Tashi Gyeltshen to be adjusted at the time of claiming his final bill.  When claiming his final bill, Tashi Gyeltshen was told to deposit Nu 100,000 as security money, which he did, according to Tshewang Rinzin.

The contradictory statements in the court, according to Tashi Gyeltshen, cropped up because ACC had not given him a chance to express his own will.  He alleged that ACC investigators took many statements from him, when he was kept under detention for three nights on November 12-14, 2012. “During their prolonged interrogation, I suffered emotional and mental distress, as they threatened me to confess,” he submitted.

He also alleged that investigators accused him for his poor English and that they couldn’t understand his writing. “Therefore, I was forced to write my statement whatever they said and, because of this, I had to confess even if I’d done nothing wrong,” Tashi Gyeltshen said. “ACC also threatened me that my wife would also equally be charged if I didn’t admit.”

Tashi Gyeltshen, therefore, requested the court to verify and reinvestigate, as the charges against him were based on ACC’s findings. “Otherwise, there’ll be no justice,” he said.

The court also summoned Kuenzang Rinzin of K Rinzin Construction in Paro, regarding a payment of Nu 150,000 to Tashi Gyeltshen, who was charged with abuse of function.  However, he denied paying him the amount.

The contract work for the construction of gabion wall at Yangthang in Bjee gewog, Haa was awarded to K Rinzin Construction for Nu 1.352M (million) on December 8, 2010.

OAG’s prosecutor said Tashi Gyeltshen had accepted Nu 150,000 from Kuenzang Rinzin for providing engineering assistance in the project.  Tashi Gyeltshen also admitted to the ACC that he received the money from Kuenzang Rinzin, and a part of that money received, Nu 110,000, was deposited in his account.

Kuenzang Rinzin also agreed that Tashi Gyeltshen had filled the bill of quantity (BoQ), tender and prepared the bill for his contract work. “However, I never paid Nu 150,000 to Tashi Gyelsthen,” he said. “I had also given the same statement to ACC during interrogation, but I wonder how this amount was reflected,” Kuenzang Rinzin said.

He said that ACC had taken a statement from him in Haa. “Since I don’t know how to write a statement, ACC investigators wrote for me and I was made to copy it and submit the statement to them,” he alleged. “I was also not given an option to call a witness to write on my behalf.”

He also said that he was called again to Thimphu for another statement. “That time, I took a witness to write my statement,” Kuenzang Rinzin said.

Tashi Gyeltshen said he took Nu 150,000 from his wife, as she earned some profit from the construction of the gabion wall at Katsho.

Kuenzang Rinzin, however, admitted that he had given a HP laptop worth Nu 46,000 and an external drive worth Nu 6,000 to Tashi Gyeltshen for rendering his engineering service to him in preparing the construction drawing for his private three-storied building in Paro.

Meanwhile, ACC officials denied the allegations of taking the defendants’ statements under duress. “The defendants will always make mechanical arguments to defend their charges,” an official said over the telephone.

ACC claimed that they have a process, where suspects are given an opportunity to express on their own free will. “Even if they don’t know how to write their statement, we give them an option to bring someone, who can write on their behalf,” he said.  “The allegations against ACC are unfounded.”

By Rinzin Wangchuk, Haa