… seizure as per the Supreme Court judgement

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

The Jatan Prasad Lalchand Prasad (JPLP) departmental store property at the heart of Phuentsholing town was seized yesterday.

Officials from the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) and other relevant agencies such as the police, thromde, JPLP, and drungkhag were present.

The owner, Lalchand Prasad, is still at large.

ACC officials said the properties were seized as “judgement implementation” in accordance with the Supreme Court’s (SC) judgement that convicted Lalchand Prasad and sentenced him to five years of non-compoundable prison term in May this year.

Officials explained that as per the rules, the properties will be auctioned for a recovery of Nu 154.61 million (M) Lalchand Prasad is liable to pay to the state. However, Lalchand Prasad had paid Nu 80M during his bailout, which will be deducted and the remaining amount of more than Nu 74M will have to be recovered.

An official from the ACC told Kuensel that the owner of JPLP was asked to deposit the amount, as per the verdict, but since he refused to follow the SC order, the property was seized.

The SC had ruled JPLP had evaded Nu 38.98M worth of tax between 2011 and 2014. Including the penalty for concealment and 24 percent per annum interest for late payment, Lalchand Prasad was asked to pay Nu 154.61M to the state as a penalty and interest for late payment.

JPLP became a high profile case after ACC had detained Lalchand Prasad on June 17, 2015, on suspicion of tax evasion. The store, one of the biggest in Phuentsholing, was sealed and shut in the wee hours of business then.

Following the investigation, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) filed a case against Lalchand Prasad at the Phuentsholing drungkhag court on September 4 that year.

Lalchand Prasad was charged for tax evasion, deflection of goods, false invoicing and declaration of goods.

ACC had detained him for three months and denied bail as nobody was willing to come forward as his guarantor and pay Nu 184M that was evaded.

However, the OAG released him on bail on September 16, 2015 after a bail amount of Nu 80M was paid.

Phuentsholing drungkhag court’s judgment in July 2018 ruled out that JPLP had to pay Nu 14.487M against the evaded tax worth Nu 184M in four years from 2011 to 2014.

After the drungkhag court, the case was appealed directly to the High Court as the Chukha dzongkhag court’s drangpon presided over the case at the Phuentsholing drungkhag court.

ACC stated that JPLP’s tax evasion was Nu 26.12M in 2014, Nu 4.44M in 2013, Nu 9.12M in 2012 and Nu 14.97M in 2011.

ACC also stated that the amount of tax evaded each year “exceeds” the daily national minimum wage of 30 years, Nu 1.35M, prescribed under section 18(a) of the Penal Code and due to this, his tax evasion crime fell under third-degree felony.

During the drungkhag court proceedings, Lalchand Prasad submitted that JPLP was liable for fines and penalties of Nu 8.69M and not Nu 184M as submitted by the OAG.

However, OAG representatives explained that the taxable amount after fines and penalties was determined from what the ACC discovered and what the defendant had declared to the customs office in Phuentsholing.

Upon finding that the OAG had made a double entry and overstated the purchase amount, the court deducted Nu 49M. However, the OAG’s new findings showed that JPLP was still liable for tax evasion amounting to Nu 126.89M, which included purchase cost.

The High Court’s larger bench judgment altered the judgment of the lower courts in 2019, but since the OAG didn’t appeal, ACC had to appeal to SC and prosecute the case.

As per the SC judgement, Lalchand Prasad was ordered to refund Nu 154.61M to the government within a month from the day of judgment. As Lalchand Prasad is not in Phuentsholing, the property will be auctioned for recovery.

Edited by Tashi Dema