High Court’s bench III acquitted four RBA officers and two non-commissioned officers in the DeSuung training fund embezzlement case on October 24.
Overturning the judgment of the RBA trial court, the High Court cleared Lt Colonel Karma Tharchin, Lt Colonel Rinzin Yeshey, Lt Colonel Ugyen Norbu, Major Lingi Jamtsho, and two NCOs Sonam Dendup and Zepa of all the charges.
The grounds for acquittal in all the cases are the same – that the prosecutor did not produce adequate evidence to convince the court to convict the accused.
The court stated that to reprive somebody’s liberty there has to be proof beyond reasonable doubt as is required to convict a person in criminal cases.
In all the cases most of the charges were based on the statements of the vendors who supplied groceries, meat, and other items for the training programme, and of the accused.
The court stated that there were no corroborative evidence to prove the charges except for the bills, some handwritten, and statements of those involved. The prosecutor failed to prove how the accused benefited from the adjustments and where the money was used.
The court also found that the Royal Audit Authority had not raised any issues regarding the adjustments in the bills.
The court delved on whether adjustment can be considered embezzlement limited to the case, and if the adjusted, amount and alleged embezzled amount tallied.
The officers admitted to making adjustments in the bills in their statements to the Anti-Corruption Commission and the courts. They had to serve restricted items to guests and trainees, pay cash prizes to dancers during the closing event of programme, and pay incentives to those who helped organize the programme, the amount could not be billed. Hence, they made adjustments, the court found.
The adjustments are illegal. The court cited section 66 of the Evidence Act of Bhutan. It states: “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 court found that such adjustments were routinely done in all the training programmes.
The court found that the amount that the officers admitted to adjusting differed only in a few hundreds from what the vendors claimed was adjusted. The court considered the differences applying the legal principle that ‘law does not concern with trifles’ in regards to differences in amount adjusted and billed.
For instance, Lt Colonel Karma Tharchin admitted to adjusting Nu 281,000 during the 11th and 17th batches of DeSuung training and the vendors in their statements said that the adjusted amount was about Nu 280,617. Applying the principle, the court did not investigate further on the difference of Nu 383.
The military court convicted Karma Tharchin of embezzling about Nu 1.3M while serving as the administrative officer for the 11th and 17th batch DeSuung programme.
The court also used its discretion in one of the charges of Lt Colonel Ugyen Norbu.
The accused submitted that he could not name the supplier of a restricted item and that Nu 1,500 were adjusted for providing fruits to a DeSuup who was treated for fracture to her leg. The court considered the amount considering precedence of adjustments done in other programmes.
While both sides requested the court to call the vendors and ACC officials for cross-examination, the court said that it referred the statements from all the parties submitted and summoned some shopkeepers to clarify on certain issues.
In August this year, overturning the judgment, the court acquitted Major Sigay Tshewang and a non-commissioned officer, Pelpon Nima Gyeltshen, who were convicted by the Army court for embezzling DeSuung training funds in 2013.
In 2017, the RBA court convicted him of misusing Nu 949,670 from the funds for the ninth DeSuung training programme at Military Training Centre (MTC) in Wangdue where he served as the administrative officer.
The trial court sentenced him to four years in prison and terminated him from service without any retirement benefits.
The parties have 10 days to appeal to the larger bench of the High Court against the decision.