… They alleged that the National Land Commission and former drangpon for hatching conspiracy

Rinzin Wangchuk

Former Trongsa Dzongdag Lhab Dorji and his wife Karma Tshetrim Dolma submitted several evidence in documents and audio recordings, including forensic reports to prove that they are not guilty of any charges in connection with the alleged illegal land transaction and substitution case in Trongsa.

The appellants’ two lawyers made a PowerPoint presentation to the High Court’s Bench II in a seven-hour evidence hearing from 9.30am to 5.30pm on April 19 during which parties including the Anti-Corruption Commission’s (ACC) prosecutors were present.

Lhab Dorji and his wife, including four other people involved in the case, appealed to High Court after the Trongsa Dzongkhag Court on November 14, 2019 convicted and sentenced them to a prison term ranging from one to six years.

Lhab Dorji was given a concurrent sentence of five years for four counts of forgery, three counts of official misconduct, and execution of the document by deception.

Karma Tshetrim Dolma and the former Drakteng Gup Tenzin were given a concurrent sentence of six years each for fabricating sale deeds, submitting false reports to the courts for transfer of land ownership, and for deceptive practices.

The trial court also sentenced former Nubi Gup Phuntsho for forgery to a year and six months in prison and former surveyor, Narayan Dangal, for aiding and abetting and for official misconduct. Retired drangpon Ugyen Tenzin was sentenced to a year and six months in prison for forgery. 

The duo appealed to the High Court on the grounds that ACC lacks locus standi to prosecute them, denied fair trial, and they are not guilty of any charges. The appellants also demanded the prosecutor to compensate Nu 306 million with 15 percent interest per annum for ruins caused to their property, “View Point Resort” in Trongsa.

Land transaction  done with due process

All the charges against Karma Tshetrim Dolma surrounds the sale deed pertaining to two sisters, Yangchen and Sonam Choden’s 2.77 acres land and late Lhaden’s 2.18 acres land, and the regularisation of excess land of 1.933 acres dates back to 2005.

Sonam Choden, and Yangchen, wife of former drangpon Ugyen Tenzin, had consistently maintained during ACC investigations, that the alleged lands were not sold by them but by their late parents, who in turn, were always assisted by late Rinchen Gyalpo, the village tshogpa. 

In 2015, when ACC called the sisters for questioning, the appellants alleged that Drangpon Ugyen Tenzin went to reach them to the ACC office and coached them to deny knowledge about the land transactions. During the questioning, they also denied giving their authorisation to Tshogpa Rinchen Gyalpo and Dranpon Ugyen Tenzin, who was the registrar general of  High Court. “This denial resulted in implicating both my wife and Yangchen’s husband, Drangpon Ugyen Tenzin for forging the authorization letter for the land transaction,” Lhab Dorji stated.

The appellant reiterated that the court upon verifying the legitimacy of the sale deeds and thrams had accordingly passed its judgment effecting the respective transactions and endorsed by the National Land Commission Secretariat (NLCS). As a proof, the appellant submitted the statement which reveals about the judge’s inquiry to Ugyen Tenzin who  confirmed about the genuineness of the sale transaction.

“The appellant is the bona fide purchaser for value and at the time of transaction, the land was reasonably substituted with satshab,” Karma Tshetrim Dolma’s lawyer submitted.

She also reiterated that she never had knowledge that the land in question were acquired by the government and compensated with five acres of land from Gelephu as substitute in 2003. The appellant came to know of this fact only during ACC’s interrogation in 2015. “Thus, in this case, the appellant is an innocent buyer”.

The appellant had discovered that Sonam Choden and Yangchen’s father, Drupon Kinzang Dorji and family were unaware of substitute land of five acres from Gelephu for their land under acquisition in Trongsa. Documentary evidence was submitted to the High Court to prove that the land was granted in the name of Drupon Kinzang Dorji and 12 other family members.

Both Lhab Dorji and his wife alleged that Drangpon Ugyen Tenzin, to enrich himself unjustly, had prepared a forged gift deed between Kinzang Dorji and himself, and without the NOC from the other 12 family members, and in violation of restriction on transaction of kidu land. He had managed to get the same registered in his name immediately through Gelephu Court within few months from the issuance of the Royal Kasho of the substitute land. The appellant submitted  documents relating to this illegal transaction.

They also submitted the forensic report on the signature analysis of Kinzang Dorji. The forensic expert had confirmed that signature on the sale deed between Yangchen and Karma Tshetrim Dolma.  

The case

The crux of the case the appellants submitted before the appellate court was that the ACC failed to prosecute officials from the then Department of Survey and Land Records (DSLR) who committed mistakes by creating a ‘ghost land’ under Thram No 514. Both defendants challenged the ACC for wrongfully charging them when the cause of action occurred due to the negligence of DSLR.

The records demonstrate that the listed eight plots were marked to have been deleted from the 1980 Chazhag Thrams of Sonam Choden and Yangchen; the eight plots continued to reflect a status quo in the New Sathram Compilation (NSC) report of 2003, based on which the Blue Thram No 505 and 506 of the two sisters were issued through the dzongkhag in 2004. This had enabled the parents of the two sisters to sell the alleged lands to Karma Tshetrim Dolma in 2005.

Lhab Dorji was convicted by the trial court for negligence for informing the survey team, which conducted the NCS in 2004 that the eight plots of the two sisters had been acquired and substituted from Gelephu.

“The deliberate failure of the DSLR had provided the opportunity for Sonam Choden and Yangchen to re-measure the eight plots during the NCS and registered the plots back in their new Thram No 505 and 506 in 2004,” his lawyer argued. “They were able to do that because eight plots were not deleted from the KAPA thram by the DSLR.”

The appellant alleged that Ugyen Tenzin had exerted undue influence in the DSLR to create Thram No 514 for the  education ministry to submit a false report to the authority. “We were victims of a larger conspiracy hatched by Drangpon Ugyen Tenzin.”

Lhab Dorji submitted that he is convicted for not deleting eight plots from the thrams of the two sisters based on the copy of the letter sent to Sarpang dzongkhag in 2003.

“Any changes to be effected in the thrams of individuals can only be carried out with direct instructions from the DSLR, and not based on the copy of a letter sent to another agency,” he stated.

He said that the Trongsa court bulldozed the accusations of the ACC and passed severe sentences on the “innocent” land buyers, witnesses, and public officials in order to help ACC achieve their aim of declaring the land illegal and to demolish resort.

The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) in 2016  dropped the  case after finding no merit to initiate any of the recommended criminal proceedings against the alleged suspects as the alleged transactions were found to have been caused due to administrative lapses of the NLCS and failure of  a few individuals who had died before ACC’s investigation.  It also stated that the basis of ACC’s investigation on the alleged transaction of government lands hinges solely on Thram No 514. The ACC then took up the case.