The appeal court overturned the lower court’s verdict and allowed the defendants to pay thrimthue

Verdict: Reversing the Haa dzongkhag court’s ruling, the High Court’s Bench II on October 27 convicted former project manager of Lhakhang Karpo conservation project to a year imprisonment for waiving off woola (labour contribution) for his relatives and neighbours.

The court established that Wangchuk Tshering had waived off woola for 12 households and issued receipts amounting to Nu 44,330 for the work not done. The court directed the defendant to restitute the amount within 10 days.

The Haa court on June 23 exonerated Wangchuk Tshering justifying that the court could not establish he had a ‘criminal intent’ to embezzle funds.

Dissatisfied with the district court’s verdict, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) appealed to the High Court on August 10 to review the lower court’s judgment and consider a criminal liability against the former project manager.

The prosecutors submitted that the OAG was not satisfied and convinced by the lower court’s ruling for accepting adjustment made by the defendant by reflecting the 15 names of his relatives and neighbours in the muster roll, without engaging them in the project as woolaps. The OAG also submitted that Wangchuk Tshering had no authority to waive off woola for which he was liable for criminal sanction.

The OAG has implicated the project manager with two embezzlement charges, involving Nu 74,985 and Nu 55,380, for using ghost labourers in the muster roll. Wages from the muster roll were collected using thumbprints and fake signatures.

The same bench also convicted former project engineer, Tashi Gyeltshen and sand supplier Tshewang Rinzin to four months and two months imprisonment respectively for depositing the money into a personal account.

The High Court verdict stated it could not establish that the sand supplier had bribed Tashi Gyeltshen with Nu 100,000. However, the court found that the defendant had not deposited the amount into the government account but deposited into his personal account. “If the amount was accepted as security deposit for un-sieved sand, it should have been deposited in the government account,” the verdict stated.

The OAG appealed after the Haa court dismissed two charges of bribery and for supplying inferior sand quality and acquitted the 31-year-old contractor. The verdict stated that the proprietor of TNW Construction, Tshewang Rinzin, who supplied sand to the project, had not bribed project engineer Tashi Gyeltshen but paid the amount as security deposit.

The OAG charged the duo for soliciting and receiving a bribe of Nu 100,000. Tshewang Rinzin was charged for bribing Tashi Gyeltshen to accept inferior quality sand collected from the IMTRAT helipad area. The money was deposited into Tashi Gyeltshen’s account through a self-cheque on August 27, 2012 three days after receiving the payment.

The High Court’s verdict stated that Tshewang Rinzin was sentenced to two months for aiding and abetting the crime for depositing Nu 100,000 in Tashi Gyeltshen’s account. The court ordered Tshewang Rinzin to restitute Nu 100,000 to the government account while it asked Tashi Gyeltshen to deposit Nu 76,000 as penal interest of 24 percent per annum for Nu 100,000 received from the sand supplier within 10 days.

All three defendants were given an option to pay thrimthue in lieu of imprisonment.

Meanwhile, the former foreign minister’s case is at the Supreme Court. MP Rinzin Dorje was acquitted by the Haa court but convicted to a year in prison when it reached the High Court for misusing dzongkhag DCM truck to transport his private timber from Haa to Thimphu.

Rinzin Wangchuk