Three officers that the military court convicted last year for embezzling DeSuung training funds are acquitted.

The High Court’s bench three on October 26 overturned the conviction for all charges against Major Sonam Lhagyel, Peljab Sonam Dorji, and Peljab Wangchuk citing lack of corroborative evidence.

Major Sonam Lhagyel was convicted of embezzling Nu 1,226,949 from the 13thbatch DeSuung training programme for the executive members of the government including ministers and parliament members.

The trial court sentenced him to four years and six months in prison for embezzling Nu 646,734 from Tashi Wangmo shop, Nu 73,500 from Lemo shop, Nu 279,905 from HD shop and Nu 226,810 Dorji Bakery owner.

Of the goods Nu 11,46,734 bought from Tashi Wangmo shop, the shopkeeper stated in her statement to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) that she had received between Nu 300,000 to Nu 500,000 from the customer. ACC considered the bigger amount, Nu 500,000, as payment made by the officer to the shopkeeper and charged the officer for embezzling the remaining amount of Nu 646,734.

However, Tashi Wangmo stated in the court that she had given her statement to the ACC under duress and said that she could not recall the amount clearly.

The difference in the figures in the final bills and the amount the shopkeepers had received, as given in their statements to ACC, was considered as embezzled. The court ordered them to refund the amount.

The high court deducted Nu 73,463 that Major Sonam Lhagyel paid as tax deducted at source to revenue and customs department from the amount charged as embezzled.

The court stated that Major Sonam Lhagyel had also paid Nu 22,000 to RAPA dancers, ration worth Nu 73,860 were returned to the shopkeepers, and accepted Nu 73,500 paid to Lemo shop.

The commandant of the military centre also counter signed and verified the bills. The accounts were audited and accepted by the Royal Audit Authority.

He also submitted that Nu 230,000 for restricted items, payment to dancers during the functions, soelra at the two archery matches, and others.

The High Court stated that it looked at the precedent of expenses made for such items and events and was convinced that the expenses were made and events organised as was the norm.

The court cited section 66 of the Evidence Act of Bhutan: “Evidence of the habit or routine practice of a person or a corporation is relevant to prove that the conduct of that person or corporation on a particular occasion was in conformity with the habit or routine practice.”

The High Court rejected the statements from Karna Bdr Harka to ACC, which was taken a few days after the national referral hospital stated that he had suffered from a panic attack.

The court also rejected the statement from shopkeeper Tashi Wangmo, which she claimed to the court was taken under duress, for lack of corroborative evidence.

The High Court cleared Peljab Wangchuk who served as the administrative clerk for the training programme citing that he was not even charged in the case. The military court had sentenced him to two years and six months for aiding and abetting.

Sonam Dorji was handed the same prison term for taking Nu 57, 000 for Karna Bdr Harka and Tashi Wangmo and making adjustments in the bills. However, the charge was based on the statements of the shopkeepers without supporting evidence, thus the High Court acquitted him.

The parties have 10 working days to appeal to the larger bench of the High Court.

Tshering Palden