But court proceedings on Lal Chand’s tax evasion case will continue

Corruption: Phuentsholing dungkhag court has deferred the trial proceedings for four fronting cases after the Attorney General wrote to the court requesting it to temporarily suspend the hearings.

Chukha district court judge, Goembo Dorji, who is presiding over the court proceedings of the corruption cases at the Phuentsholing court, said the court was to hold the opening hearings for four Bhutanese and another four non-Bhutanese on October 5 but had to keep them on hold.

On October 2, Attorney General Shera Lhendup requested the court in writing to withhold the hearings of Dorji Wangmo Tshongkhang, Rigsom enterprise, Norzang Trading, and Rabten Pharmaceutical and Medical Supplies, all based in Phuentsholing. “However, the court proceedings for the owner of Jatan Prasad Lal Chand Prasad (JPLP) departmental store, Lal Chand, will continue,” drangpon Goembo Dorji, said.

Except for JPLP store, non-Bhutanese ran the rest of the establishments, license for which are owned by Bhutanese.

The Attorney General in his letter to the court had stated that there were several fronting cases dealt by the regional trade and industry office in Phuentsholing in the past and the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) will have to look into those cases.

“The government prosecuting agency basically wants to see how the fronting cases were resolved by the trade department before the court proceedings and come up with uniform action,” the judge said.

Based on the Anti-Corruption Commission’s (ACC) findings, the OAG has charged 10 individuals, including four Bhutanese and six non-Bhutanese for commercial bribery, tax evasion, deflection of goods, fraudulent practices and official misconduct. The cases were registered with the Phuentsholing court on September 4.

The defendants include Lal Chand and his accomplice Raj Chowdary, Dorji Wangmo and Jai Prakash of Dorji Wangmo Tshongkhang, Sonam Choden and Naresh Bansal of Rigsom Enterprise, Ugyen Tshering and Raj Kumar Agrawal of Norzang Trading, and Yangki Tshering and Bal Krishna Panday of Rabten Pharmaceutical and Medical Supplies.

This is the first cohort of the commission’s ongoing investigation into the entrenched corrupt practices in the country’s commercial hub.

Except for four Bhutanese who appeared in court during the preliminary hearings last month, the rest of the defendants had reportedly absconded.

Raj Kumar Agrawal, who runs Norzang Trading had absconded on the day the ACC raided his shop.

The commission also found that Rigsom Enterprise had not maintained books of accounts properly and designed a special undertaking form that the business will not run on fronting. However, Sonam Choden was found to have fronted her business to Naresh Bansal.

Dorji Wangmo Tshongkhang was run by Jai Prakash, who was operating in the same place on a different license earlier. After the former license under KC Tshongkhang was revoked, Jai Prakash used Dorji Wangmo, who was a sale girl then, to obtain the license.

Meanwhile, the opening statement for Lal Chand is scheduled for November 2. Court officials said Lal Chand’s case was not related to fronting since he legally owns a trade license.

On September 17, Lal Chand was released on bail for Nu 80 million (M) after he was detained for three months. He was detained for allegedly evading tax amounting to more than Nu 184M from 2011 – 2014. The Attorney General negotiated and settled the bail amount at Nu 80M. Besides the cash offered for bail by the defendant, the amount also includes Lal Chand’s building, which was built on leased government land worth Nu 7.5M and Nu 10.47M, which is due for collection.

Meanwhile, the ACC forwarded five more cases to the OAG for prosecution earlier this month taking the total number of cases to 13.

The eight cases that remain pending with the OAG for prosecution include Phuentsholing regional and customs office’s customs inspector Tshewang Rinzin, Brumi Enterprise, T Phuntsho Enterprise, DP Tshongkhang, IS Enterprise, Choeteylal Shah, Rabten Roadways and Udee clearing agent

Udee clearing agent’s case was forwarded to the OAG last week. The clearing agency belongs to the mother of a deputy collector with the regional revenue and customs office and is reportedly run by his wife.

Commenting on the pending cases with the OAG, Attorney General Shera Lhendup said they have too many cases to receive clearance from the in-house screening corpus. “We are doing our best but we focus on cases other than fronting at the moment,” the Attorney General said. “Because they need to have correct study and findings on them to act correctly as one possible mistake shouldn’t be backed up by another mistake from our side.”

Rinzin Wangchuk