Judiciary: The High Court, earlier this month, acquitted Dr Samdrup R Wangchuk of bribery charges in the health procurement scam of 2007-8.

Dr Samdrup, who was charged for bribery, was asked to restitute USD 7,000 and Nu 0.5 million by the lower court. He was alleged of taking bribes from medical equipment suppliers from India for the award of tenders.

The Court’s Bench I ruled that the Office of the Attorney General could not provide evidence beyond reasonable doubt to prove the bribery charges against Dr Samdrup R Wangchuk.

The High Court found that Dr Samdrup R Wangchuk was not on the six-member tender committee that went to Delhi, India for a meeting on August 23, 2007. The court found although he was the head of the health department, he had no authority everything was decided by tender evaluation committee. Dr Samdrup also submitted that the confession to Anti-Corruption Commission officials was made under duress.

The second bribery charge against Dr Samdrup R Wangchuk was found lacking of adequate evidence to convince the judges, who altered the lower court’s decision to acquit the accused.

After almost three years of court proceedings in connection with the health procurement scam, Dr Samdrup and another health official Rinchen Dorji, two of the four health officials appealed to the High Court in December last year after they were convicted for bribery and official misconduct.

The Thimphu district court sentenced them to two years each for bribery and official misconduct.

Rinchen Dorji was charged for bribery, official misconduct and having disproportionate assets and the court ordered him to restitute USD 6,000, Nu 0.5M and a Toyota Prado worth Nu 1.3 million.

The High Court slightly altered the verdict of the lower court and asked the defendant to pay the USD 6,000 to the government.

Dr Samdrup’s lawyer Kuenzang Wangchuk from Bhutan Legal Services said that this case has firmly established that the higher courts won’t rely on confessions alone unless the investigation and prosecuting agencies prove the alleged offence with credible corroborative evidences.

“This ruling will go a long way in protecting the citizens’ right,” he said.

About 14 health officials including three health liaison officers in Kolkata, India, were charged for offence of bribery, embezzlement, official misconduct, aiding and abetting and disproportionate income.

In the first group in 2013, six health officials were sentenced to six months to more than 10 years in prison. They were made to restitute Nu 6.473M.

However, the verdict against four health officials had been deferred due to the suppliers implicated in the case not being available for prosecution.

ACC began its investigation in September 2009 after receiving allegations of health officials being offered paid trips to Germany and China amid the bidding process. The scope of the ACC investigation extended to cover fraud and corruption in Government of India funded supply tenders in connection to the JDWNRH and Mongar  regional referral hospital in 2007-08 as well as its annual tenders.

The commission found that the ministry’s procurement was fraught with corruption, inefficiencies and mismanagement with many procurement officials in Drugs, Vaccine and Equipment Division (DVED), administration and finance division and JDWNRH having accepted pecuniary advantages in relation to supply tenders on various occasions. Corruption was found to be more evident in medical equipment procurement than in drugs procurement.

ACC also found there was collusion between DVED and selected suppliers.

Tshering Palden