The serpentine nature of the dealings involved will take some unravelling

 Update: Confusing both prosecutors and court officials, the defendants of the ongoing Lhakhang Karpo case are frequently changing their submissions, to seek dismissal of charges that range from official misconduct, bribery, and forgery to embezzlement.

For instance, defendant Tshewang Rinzin, who was charged with active bribery of a public servant, changed his statement, after the court conducted a cross-examination hearing on March 20.  Initially, Tshewang Rinzin, proprietor of TNW Construction, who supplied sand to the project, submitted that he claimed the bill amounting to Nu 0.705M (million) for supplying 70 truckloads of sand after sieving.

However, Tshewang Rinzin changed his submission, saying that the person, who wrote the statement on his behalf, made a mistake, and requested the court to dismiss his earlier statement and consider project engineer Tashi Gyeltshen’s submission.

Tashi Gyeltshen said that the bill was cleared before sieving the sand, and Nu 100,000 was collected from Tshewang Rinzin as security deposit.  The money was deposited in his personal account.

The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) charged the duo with soliciting and receiving a bribe of Nu 100,000.  Tshewang Rinzin was charged with bribing Tashi Gyeltshen to accept poor quality sand collected from the IMTRAT helipad area.  Tshewang Rinzin was awarded a contract work to supply sand to the Lhakhang Karpo project on June 17, 2011.

Nima of Pema Tshongkhang, who is also charged with bribing the project engineer with a Samsung Galaxy phone worth Nu 33,500, also requested the court to dismiss his earlier statement and admit Tashi Gyeltshen’s submission.  He submitted that he bought the phone from Jaigaon and handed over to Tashi Gyeltshen, for which he received half the payment.

Tashi Gyeltshen said that he paid Nu 16,000 to Nima, after he learnt that he was going to New Delhi.

On February 25, Tashi Gyeltshen, who has the highest number of charges against him among the seven involved, accepted the forgery charge when he rebutted against the OAG.  He pleaded with the court to charge him, as per section 297 (d) of the Penal Code, which is a misdemeanour for all other forgeries and not (c) as indicted by the OAG.

Tashi Gyeltshen, however, pleaded not guilty, while submitting his second rebuttal statement on March 17.   He said that there was no secure or proper place to keep timber at the Lhakhang Karpo premises.

“To prevent from theft, I sought an approval from the project to procure GI wire mesh for the project,” Tashi Gyeltshen said. “Since the GI wire mesh was urgently required, it wasn’t possible to call for quotation. Therefore, I’d signed the bid document and supplied the materials to the project.”

He said that other business entities’ licenses were used to submit quotations in consultation with the license holders.  He also claimed that the worth of GI wire mesh was not more than Nu 75,513, which was not a significant amount. “I’ve done in good faith to protect and prevent timber from theft,” Tashi Gyeltshen said. “It wasn’t done for personal benefit.”

Hence, Tashi Gyeltshen submitted that he was not liable for conviction. “Even if my action had violated law, I have the defence of justification, as provided in chapter eight of the Penal Code,” he rebutted.

The penal provision states, “a defendant shall have the defence of justification, when the defendant in good faith engages in a conduct that the defendant reasonably believed was necessary to prevent a harm or crime to oneself or to another person and the harm or crime sought to be prevented by the conduct is greater than that sought to be prevented by the law defining the offence charged.”

OAG’s prosecutor, however, challenged Tashi Gyeltshen’s submission of acting in good faith. “If his intention was to protect and prevent timber from theft, he shouldn’t have claimed Nu 230 a square metre (m2) after procuring the GI wire mesh from Jaigaon, India at Nu 126.48/m2,” the prosecutor said during the rebuttal hearing on March 20.

After seeking approval from the project, Tashi Gyeltshen is alleged to have selected and placed the spot quotation to three firms, Jatsho Enterprise, Thimphu, Pema Tshongkang and Kay-Tee Enterprise, both in Paro, on January 23, 2012.  On scrutinising the documents, the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) found that he had forged the quotation bids for Nima, the proprietor of Pema Tshongkhang and Tashi Phuntsho, the proprietor of Jatsho Enterprise.

Nima and Tashi Phuntsho admitted that they did not participate in the quotation, nor authorised anyone to represent their firms.  The bid for the proprietor of Key-Tee Enterprise, Dago, turned out to be the lowest and the supply order was placed on February 13, 2012.  He then procured the GI wire mesh from Jaigaon and prepared the bill in the letterhead of Key-Tee Enterprise and forged Dago’s signature.

By Rinzin Wangchuk, Haa