ACC says the allegations are meant to demean an important constitutional institution

The on-going embezzlement case, involving soldiers and officials of the Royal Bhutan Army (RBA), has resurfaced a pertinent question on the investigation agencies’ interrogation methods mainly that of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC).

The defendants, including the 15 RBA officers who were found guilty of various charges including embezzlement and nine non-commissioned officers (NCOs) for aiding and abetting the crime, allege that the ACC officials took statements from them under duress.

The defendants claimed that they retracted their statements in the Lungtenphug military court.

This is not the first time defendants are making such claims.

In the Lhakhang Karpo case in 2015, defendants also submitted to court that their statements to ACC were not given voluntarily.

Tashi Gyeltshen alleged that ACC investigators harassed him through prolonged interrogation and threatened him to confess, during which he suffered emotional and mental distress.

There are also incidences where litigants retract their statements before the court, alleging that the police forced them to confess the crime or make the statement.

In another case, one of the accused of the Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan Limited corruption case alleged that while being interrogated by the ACC, he was treated like a criminal. He claimed that investigators threatened to detain him if he did not confess.

“Duress is there,” he alleged.

He claims that the investigators never sought their permission before recording their interrogation. “I received the summon order only after the interrogation, which is in violation of the rules.”

ACC commissioner Jamtsho said summon orders was usually served before conducting the interrogation. “But for some logistic and technical reasons, maybe it was served after the interrogation but on the same day itself.”

The commissioner said that all interrogations start by informing the person about their rights for a jabmi (legal representative), all said and provided for in writing will be used as evidence and that all proceedings in the room are recorded.

He also said tea and lunch are served as per the choice of the one interrogated. “For any investigation process, there’s a standard operating procedure (SOP). I am fully confident and trust our officers of using it in both letter and spirit.”

He also said that he feels that the allegations are only meant to demean an important constitutional institution.

An accused in a fronting case in Phuentsholing alleged that ACC investigators threatened him with a gun during interrogation. ACC officials said that they have asked the Office of the Attorney General to investigate into the allegation as  it was impossible for such a thing to happen because they are not armed.

Black’s law dictionary defines duress as a threat of harm made to compel someone to do something against their will or judgment; especially a wrongful threat made by a person to compel a manifestation of seeming assent by another person to a transaction without real volition.

Section 160 of the Civil and Criminal Procedure Code states that a person shall not be subjected to torture, cruelty, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment. Its subsection 2 states that a statement or pleading or testimony was given under such circumstances shall be inadmissible.

Evidence Act section 85 states that the court shall not consider any confession to be valid unless the confession is proven to be: made voluntarily, given independently; and made without duress, coercion, undue influence or inducement.

Meanwhile, some lawyers said that it is normal for defendants to retract their statements to investigating agencies.

“The defendants are given the benefit of the doubt and allowed to retract but their statements are not final,” a lawyer said.

He said the statements are taken mainly to lead the investigation and gather corroborative evidence. “In the court, the prosecutor will have to produce evidence.”

Rinzin Wangchuk and Tshering Palden