Only Nu 202M or 27 percent was restituted as of June 2022

Rinzin Wangchuk 

It is not only curbing corruption that is a challenge for the Anti-Corruption Commission. Recovery of assets or equivalent is an uphill battle for the anti-graft body.

Various courts across the country awarded gross restitution orders worth Nu 947.655 million (M) from 2006 to June 2022. However, the ACC and the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) managed to recover only Nu 202M during the reporting period.

Some cases dating back to 2007 and 2008 were not closed and restitution of Nu 43.330M still remains pending in connection with the embezzlement of funds from Youth Development Fund and Samtse mining case.

Other old cases for which enforcement of restitution orders are under process include the restitution of Nu 2.313M in fraudulent misappropriation and embezzlement of Nu 4.103M in health procurement fund (offshoot from case of 2009). The Supreme Court passed the judgment a decade ago, in November 2012. However, only Nu 1.790M was restituted between 2020 and 2021.


Embezzlement of public fund

Of the Nu 946.655M courts ordered to restitute, Nu 279.381M is related to embezzlement and fraudulent misappropriation of public funds. However, only Nu 47.344M was recovered as of June 2022.

The highest amount, Nu 28.916M, was restituted from the Nu 131M embezzled by two employees of Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan Ltd (RICBL) and Bhutan National Bank Ltd (BNBL) branch offices in Paro in collusion with businessmen.

In May 2022, the Supreme Court ordered the former cashier of RICBL, Rinchen Wangdi,  to restitute Nu 63.267M. The OAG managed to recover only Nu 3.916M from the convict through selling his properties.

Former BNBL’s IT officer Yezer Dema, businessman Dorji Wangdi and accomplice Tshering Wangdi have to restitute Nu 35.171M, Nu 6.660M and Nu 1M to RICBL respectively.

Some observers pointed out that since all the defendants are serving prison terms ranging from five to 20 years, it would be difficult to recover the embezzled amount from them.

However, BNBL had restituted Nu 25M as special relief to the RICBL. BNBL was held accountable and liable to pay the money as it was the custodian of RICBL’s fund.

Court verdict to restitute embezzled amount of Nu 1.103M at Bhutan Telecom in Wamrong, Nu 1.357M at regional revenue and customs office (RRCO), Phuentsholing, Nu 1.964M of BDBL in Thrimshing, Nu. 6.396M of Immigration office in Paro Airport, and Nu 2.184M  embezzled by the former legal officer of DPNBL are ongoing.

However, the restitution of Nu 10.891M of financial irregularities in the operation of government fund in Royal Bhutan Embassy, Thailand, Nu 5.096M embezzled by the messenger of Bhutan Postal Corporation and Nu 0.293M at BDBL branch in Gelephu involving assistant branch manager are pending as of June 2022.


Bribery and tax evasion

Of the Nu 202M recovered through due process of law, Nu 107.432M was restituted from 14 cases of bribery and tax evasion amounting to Nu 272.946M in Phuentsholing. From the total restitution established from ACC’s investigation of corruption offences, JPLP enterprise alone evaded the tax amount of Nu 154.619M.

The ACC is yet to recover the balance amount of Nu 77.806M from JPLP enterprise. The Supreme Court in May 2021 convicted and sentenced the proprietor of JPLP to imprisonment for five years and ordered to pay Nu 154.619M to the government’s revenue account within one month from the date of judgment.

Kuensel learnt that both OAG and ACC could not enforce the judgment rendered in absentia in connection with the bribery and tax evasion by Kundrup Enterprise which was run by Bikash Agarwal, a non-Bhutanese. The Phuentsholing drungkhag court ordered Bikash Agarwal to restitute Nu 83.769M in May 2018.

More than 50 business enterprises including 18 importers in Phuentsholing were prosecuted by the OAG for bribery and tax evasion in 2015 and 2016 after the ACC investigated rampant illegal businesses that were run and managed by non-Bhutanese under Bhutanese licences.


Huge gap in judgment and recovery

In the last 16 years (2006-2021), only Nu 46.946M was recovered from Nu 580.068M. Through the enforcement of 61 judgements, Nu 155.059M was recovered from Nu 367.587M between July 2021 and June 2022.

However, the pending restitution amounting to Nu 745.651M was related to 34 cases that are under appeal in various courts. Of the Nu 745.651M, pending restitution stands at Nu 533.123M as of June 2021 and Nu 212.528M between July 2021 and June 2022.


Proceeds of corruption

In previous reports, ACC stated that restitution is an important instrument in the ACC’s efforts towards combating corruption. It also stated that an important outcome of an investigation is the restitution of the ill-gotten wealth, and proceeds of corruption, either to the State or the aggrieved party through due process of law.

“Confiscation and subsequent restitution aim to incapacitate, by removing from a person the physical or financial ability, power, or opportunity to continue to engage in corrupt conduct, to prevent offenders from unjustly enriching themselves, by eliminating the advantages and benefits which the offender has gained through his or her illegality and to deter the offender and others from being corrupt by undermining the ultimate profitability of the venture,” the ACC had stated.

The report also stated that what the ACC uncovers and restitutes may be far too small than what actually is stolen. “Therefore, it is patently critical that the government takes aggressive measures to contain corruption, lending meaning to its eloquent and unequivocal intolerant anti-corruption policy.”

The State prosecutor is responsible to enforce courts’ judgments except those cases prosecuted by ACC.

The ACC is also yet to recover the embezzled amount of Nu 0.439M that was funded by the ACC to commemorate the Internation Anti-Corruption Day in 2014.