Dilemma over seized properties

The twenty-three vehicles, including a bulldozer and three motorbikes that the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) seized over the years, have caught the commission in a different fix.

The vehicles are collecting dust and rusting at different locations, including the ACC’s office basement.

This is one of the challenges that the commission faces today apart from backlog of cases.  “Delaying of prosecution by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG), prolonged adjudication in the court of law, and slow implementation of courts’ judgments by the prosecuting agency has delayed clearing of the seized properties,” an ACC official said.

For instance, a Toyota Prado was impounded in connection with the Samtse mining corruption case in 2010 although the Supreme Court passed the judgment in favour of OAG on December 30, 2011. ACC officials, however, said the OAG has not implemented the judgment as of now. As per the Supreme Court’s order, the prosecuting agency had to restitute more than Nu 90 million from two convicts and auction the Prado.

The other Prado the ACC seized in 2014 belongs to the then assistant director of land records, Tshewang Gyeltshen. Registered in his wife name, the Prado was alleged to have been bought with the illegal proceeds of 26-decimal plot sold to the former Chang gup. The OAG charged Tshewang Gyeltshen for accepting bribe before the court on June 19 in connection with the illegal transfer of late Ani Norzom’s 49-decimal land from Talakha to Tshalumaphey village, Babesa in November 1998.

The former Gelephu drungpa Pema Wangdi’s seized Hundai i20 car and two Tata trippers were impounded in Thimphu and Samdrupjongkhar since 2014.

The former drungpa was sentenced to 15 years in prison last month for the embezzlement of Losel cinema hall fund and misuse of money brought from Sikkim.

A Hundai i10 that belongs to Pramod Kumar Shah of Kailash Vegetable Shop based in Phuentsholing was also seized and kept in the ACC basement since 2014. The OAG filed two criminal cases against three prime accused, including Pramod Kumar Shah, and 11 officials of Druk Punjab National Bank (PNB), Thimphu branch, along with the employer in connection with the fraudulent repatriation of Indian Rupee (INR) worth 61.369M.

The commission also seized a Grand Vitara and impounded the vehicle at Bhutan Telecom office in Samdrupjongkhar in connection with the alleged embezzlement of Nu 1.6M by the officer-in-charge Karma Chojay at the telecom exchange office in Wamrong, Trashigang. The car was seized in December 2016.

A Maruti Van was impounded in Khangma, Trashigang, after the ACC found that the Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited’s depot in Nganglam misappropriated more than Nu 5M. The case that involves late depot in-charge Tshering Gyeltshen has been forwarded to the OAG.

There are also two Eicher trucks impounded at Education Central Store in Phuentsholing in connection with the tax evasion by 18 importers based in Thimphu. Two truck drivers transported the consignments on November 21, 2014 from Phuentsholing to Thimphu.

The highest number of vehicles was seized from Bhutan Development Bank Limited’s (BDBL) project officer Pema Nidup for unauthorised enhancement of overdraft (OD) and term loan amounting to Nu 576.469M between 2013 and 2016. Impounded vehicles at BDBL parking lot in Thimphu include a bulldozer, a Toyota Hilux, two Veloster cars and three Royal Enfield motorbikes.

Two Hyundai Santafee, a Hyundai Tucson and a Maruti Alto are impounded in Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan Limited’s (RICBL) parking lot. These vehicles were seized from RICBL’s Paro branch supervisor Rinchen Wangdi and accomplices, who were alleged to have embezzled Nu 113M within a period of three years.

Seizure of movable 

property

These movable properties were seized during the course of investigations into various offences and corrupt practices when the commission found a prima facie of corruption with reasonable grounds to suspect that a particular property was the subject matter of an offence or evidence relating to the offence.

Empowered by the Anti-Corruption Act of Bhutan (ACA) 2011, ACC can seize any movable property that the commission has reasonable grounds to suspect to be the subject matter of an offence or evidence relating to the offence during the course of an investigation.

The Act also states that if movable property seized is liable to speedy decay or deterioration, or is property which cannot be maintained without difficulty, or is not practicable to be maintained, the commission may sell and shall hold the proceeds of the sale, after deducting the costs and expenses of the maintenance and sale of the property.

“The commission shall take all reasonably necessary steps to protect anything obtained or anything frozen, seized or confiscated, while it is in the custody of the commission,” states the Act.

MoU deadlock

Meanwhile, both prosecuting and investigating agencies have failed to resolve the differences. Both agencies attempted to review the memorandum of understanding (MoU) last year. The commission wanted the OAG to register the case within six months from the receipt of the case, endorse a copy of the charge sheet to the commission upon registration of the case and alteration in the charges to be communicated to the commission.

ACC commissioner Jamtsho said the MoU became an impasse after the OAG informed the commission that the MoU cannot be used as legal agreement before the court. “Our idea is to expedite the prosecution of cases forwarded by the commission,” Jamtsho said.

According to the Constitution, prosecution of individual, parties or organisations on the basis of the findings of the commission shall be undertaken expeditiously by the Office of the Attorney General for adjudication by the courts.

Attorney General Shera Lhendup said OAG would strive to prosecute the case within nine months and was ready to sign the MoU. “However, we asked ACC if OAG can’t file the case before the court of law within nine months, should OAG send back the case to the commission?” he said. “This has become the subject of contentious issue or disagreement between the two agencies.”

Attorney General said that MoU is an institutional goodwill commitment to perform as much as one can to fulfil mutual interest. “However, MoU cannot be an enforceable instrument before court like other agreements,” he said.

Rinzin Wangchuk

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