The curtain fell on the much-awaited controversial case of Jatan Prasad Lalchand Prasad (JPLP) this week with a final decision from the Supreme Court. While the merit of this case is no different from any other tax evasion cases, it set several new procedural precedent. First, JPLP hired an Indian lawyer and tried to assert political pressure in the name of the right to bail to the extent of approaching their consulate in Phuentsholing accusing ACC of denying the bail, though the authority to grant or deny bail rest with the Royal Court of Justice under Section 199 of the Civil and Criminal Code (CCPC), 2001. The controversy further aggravated when in the history of Bhutan, the Attorney General himself personally went to Phuentsholing and agreed to reduce the bail amount to Nu 80 million against the earlier amount of Nu from Nu 184 million by the Anti-corruption Commission (ACC). Though legally it is not wrong it seems to have impacted negatively on the nation’s central litigation and prosecuting agency.
Second, contravening Section 12 of CCPC which states a “Dungkhag Court shall be presided over by a Dungkhag Drangpon,” the Dzongkhag Court Drangpon presided over this case in Phuentsholing Dungkhag Court. Further, Section 25 make it clear the immediate appellate court from Dungkhag is supposed to be Dzongkhag Court, the appeal was directly heard by the High Court reasoning that the case was heard already by the Dzongkhag Drangpon in the Dungkhag Court. This is unprecedented from the perspective because no law authorizes such authority to the judiciary itself. For example, in the much-discussed Wamrong Case, since the Dungkhag Court Judge himself was the husband of one of the parties, it was presided over by another Dungkhag Drangpon and the first appeal was heard by Trashigang District Court.
Third, after the Larger Bench of the High Court reversed the High Court Judgment, it was reported that OAG refused to further appeal to the Supreme Court. This prompted the investigating agency, ACC to take over the prosecution setting another unprecedented legal history. The ACC not only was able to appeal the case but was also able to reverse the decision of the Larger Bench which will further possibly damage the people’s confidence in our nation’s top prosecuting agency.
Fourth, though unwritten, Judiciary often appreciated for resolving every dispute within twelve months particularly in criminal cases. For example, AG told that in case of breach of lockdown, they have discussed with Judiciary and Royal Bhutan Police to convict the accused within a week. Against such a statement, the JPLP case dragged on for almost six years even after bypassing the Dzongkhag Court.
Going by media reports, another striking feature, in this case, was that JPLP was also allowed to continue with their business, unlike most other cases where contractors and business operators are suspended from operating their business once a case is filed against them. Trongsa Land Scam case is a good example where business was suspended. Neither the CCPC nor Income Tax Act or ACC Act provides such an exception, yet Dungkhag court justified the non-suspension. In short, this case created a new jurisprudence of allowing the Dzongkhag Court Judge to preside in Dungkhag Courts. It also set an exception to suspension of business operation in case of tax evasion and the state prosecuting agency to negotiate bail amount, strengthened the role of ACC’s authority to prosecute.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.