It’s an internal affair, says Consular general

ACC: Local leaders in Jaigaon, through a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader, have written a letter to the India’s Consulate General office in Phuentsholing expressing concerns over the ongoing Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) investigation.

The Consul General Pieyush Gupta said the letter was written to his office about a week ago with regards to the investigation and its status.

“They wanted to know what was going on,” he said, adding that the concerned people had written enquiring about the detention of non-Bhutanese, especially about the owner of Jatan Prasad Lal Chand Prasad (JPLP) departmental store that was closed for operation by the commission.

Local leaders wrote that Lal Chand was denied bail despite detained for more than 55 days now. Lal Chand’s family was also refused any information from the court, they alleged.

Meanwhile, BJP’s vice president in Alipurduar, Ganga Sharma is helping the local leaders in the lead. Kuensel met him at the Consul General’s office.

“Lal Chand was not allowed to talk to his family in their native language by commission officials,” the vice president said. “We don’t know what’s happening.” Ganga Sharma said ACC’s investigation was one-sided. His concern was also on why the commission had not given a bail.

The vice president also said he understood that ACC was doing its job. If Lal Chand has committed corrupt activities, the commission must punish him, he said. However, he said ACC shouldn’t deny him bail and should summon him during the court proceedings.

Other concerns, the vice president said that made them to write to the Consulate General, was about goods in shops run by non-Bhutanese. He said the goods are getting spoilt with the shops stopped from operation.

An auction of goods and commodities was also supposed to take place on August 13.

However, Kuensel learned the auction was cancelled.

Ganga Sharma said they would refer the case with the central government in Delhi. Lal Chand’s lawyer, who has also been following with the consulate office in Phuentsholing, expressed similar concerns.

“ACC is not being transparent,” the lawyer said.

The lawyer based in Kolkatta, India, said the commission has provided her with limited information about what is going on. She said she has received only one remand order until now, although officials had verbally stated of giving other remand orders.

“It has been more than 49 days since Lal Chand is in detention,” the lawyer said, explaining it was not allowed as per international standards of law. “We want to know the grounds for detention.”

According to the lawyer, the first (only) remand order for Lal Chand was given on July 7, 2015, which allowed keeping Lal Chand in detention until June 22, 2015. There were no remands thereafter.

The lawyer also said the commission did not share Lal Chand’s medical records with the family. She said Lal Chand’s health has deteriorated lately.

Consulate general Pieyush Gupta, meanwhile, said Bhutan is a law-abiding country. “We are sure the law enforcing and investigating agencies in Bhutan are following due process of law,” the consul general said. “We are ready to assist any genuine concerns or problems by any Indian here.”

However, Pieyush Gupta said that it was not their policy to interfere in the internal affairs of “friendly country as Bhutan.” “Bhutan is a very important country for India and we value our friendship,” Pieyush Gupta said.

Late last night, an ACC official said that Lal Chand was detained lawfully as per the Anti Corruption Act of Bhutan, 2011. “We sought remand order from the court for further inquiries,” he said.  As per the Civil and Criminal Procedure Code, the court may from time to time, authorise the detention of the accused for a reasonable duration calculated from the date of issuance of the first remand order, which shall not exceed 108 days based on the severity of charges or accusation.

That means investigation will have to complete within 108 days and the accused cannot be detained after that.

ACC officials also said that Lal Chand’s family had met him 29 times and met the Consulate General twice while in detention.

On denying bail, ACC officials said that the commission has agreed to release Lal Chand on bail on the grounds that his family brings a surety or a guarantor. “However, nobody has come forward as a guarantor to process his bail since the amount he is reportedly charged with is about Nu 180 million,” an ACC official said.

The ACC is insisting on a guarantor as required by law because when the commission earlier sent the proprietor of Vikas Medical services on bail, he did not turn up and the case is still pending before the court.

Lal Chand is reportedly charged for various fraudulent practices like tax evasion, deflection of goods, false invoicing and declaration of goods.

The court normally grants bail to the accused on the conditions that the accused or the guarantor makes himself or herself available to the police or court as and when required during the course of the investigation or trial.

They should also agree to remain within the limits of any particular area as prescribed in the bail order; and abstain from making any inducement, threat or promise, directly or indirectly, to a person acquainted with the facts of the case to dissuade the person from disclosing such facts to the court or the police.

ACC officials also said that they have also received good feedback from Jaigaon merchants, who were doing lawful businesses, on the crack down on unlawful businesses in Phuentsholing.

Meanwhile, the Bhutanese lawyer, Bhutan Law Services, who is representing Lal Chand, has been provided with the rest of the remand orders yesterday.

Rajesh Rai, Phuentsholing & Rinzin Wangchuk