The defendant was sentenced to a non-compoundable prison term of three years 

Verdict: In a packed courtroom of law students and observers, the High Court’s bench I yesterday partially reversed the trial court’s verdict and sentenced former royal advisory councilor to three years non-compoundable prison term.

Chang Ugyen, 66, who was also a former gup, was handed over to police after the court passed the verdict in connection with illegal possession and unlawful transaction of land in the late 1980s.

Overruling the Thimphu district court’s verdict, the High Court verdict stated that the punishment must be proportional to the crime one has committed or the value involved in the crime.

The court established that Ma thramchen (the mother of all subsequent thrams of which an acre zindray thram was created) had no record of the three acres of thram at Omkha nor the seven acres of land at Lubding.

The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) charged Chang Ugyen for manipulating his thram and increasing his land holding in Omkha by three acres to 3.02 acres,  and registered seven acres in Lubding, both in Thimphu thromde during his tenure as a gup from 1987 to 1989.

While the chazha thram of 1985, according to the High Court’s verdict, separated Barp from Chang, Mewang and Toep gewogs, the thrams were inserted by tampering the records when he was serving as gup in 1987.

The court observed that whether the thram was tampered by him or not, the fraud was committed while the defendant was an incumbent gup between 1987 and 1989.

“Chang Ugyen, as a sole beneficiary, has the knowledge of illegal transfer and had purposely, knowingly and unjustly hid the crime and benefited from the proceeds of illegal transaction of the land with several buyers,” the court verdict stated.

“In his capacity as a gup and despite the knowledge that any transfer of thram should route through courts as per the Land Act of 1979, the defendant had willfully suppressed the crimes for which the court upholding the principles of criminal justice system deemed him appropriately sentenced to a jail term of three years,” the verdict stated.

The prosecution submitted that the defendant be convicted to a minimum of four to six years imprisonment considering the value of property misappropriated and willful commission of fraud and for being the full beneficiary out of the commission of crimes.

However, the court overruled the submission on the grounds that he was not a repeated offender upon which such person under criminal justice system be punishable with a minimum sentence of felony degree offence, which is three years.

The court observed that the criminal justice system should invariably encourage the decriminalization rather than harsh punitive sanctions intended to reform the offender and make them regret for the action and ultimately tame them to become a law-abiding citizen.

Dissatisfied with the trial court’s verdict, the OAG on May 27 had appealed to the High Court. Thimphu district court’s bench IV passed the verdict on May 15 and sentenced Chang Ugyen to two years and six months compoundable prison term based on circumstantial evidences for tampering documents to increase the size of his land holding.

The lower court’s verdict stated that OAG couldn’t prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that Chang Ugyen colluded with the former land commission official, Sonam Norbu, to increase his land holding in Omkha, Changjalu to 3.02 acres from 0.02 decimals, and for registering seven acres of land in Lubding, above Changjalu.

The verdict also stated that although Chang Ugyen knew that the seven acres of government land above his house in Lubding was manipulated, he sold it to five buyers. Despite being fully aware of its illegality, Chang Ugyen also failed to report it to the relevant authorities.

About 10 years after the High Court closed the case, it was reopened last September. The OAG argued that the case was reopened in accordance to section 154 of the civil and criminal procedure code of Bhutan. The section states that completion of a civil suit shall not preclude a plaintiff from exercising his or her right to prosecute the same defendant for crimes.

Rinzin Wangchuk