… in motor vehicle accident claims case

Judiciary: The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) on August 24 appealed to the Chukha dzongkhag court against a lower court’s judgment, which acquitted seven of the 11 defendants in connection with misappropriation of money from the sale of 53 salvaged vehicles.

Most defendants charged by the OAG on the motor vehicle accident insurance claims case were officials of the Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan Ltd (RICBL).

The grounds of appeal, according to the appeal letter, was that the Phuentsholing dungkhag court had erred by interpreting provisions of RICBL’s Claim Manual 2011 in isolation, and acquitted the defendants, reasoning that there is an imminent risk of flood in Toorsa where RICBL’s regional godown is located.

The prosecution challenged the evidence of flooding as having no relevance to the case. The prosecutor pointed out that as vehicles were sold directly from various workshops, there was never a danger of flooding since salvaged vehicles were never kept in the godown.

Based on the investigation findings of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), the OAG charged the vehicle salvage field officer at the Phuentsholing branch office, Kezang Tshering, for embezzling Nu 890,000 from the sale of 14 vehicles through collusion and providing privileged information to one or two individuals.

RICBL normally retrieves the damaged spare parts and vehicles and pays insurance claims. It then auctions these vehicles according to the company’s claim manual, which requires the salvaged vehicles to be sold through auction or sealed tender.

Kezang Tshering was accused of selling 53 salvaged vehicles without auctioning them between 2012 and 2014, and then misappropriating the sale proceeds from 14 vehicles by flouting internal procedures.

The lower court ruled that salvaged vehicles were sold for the benefit of the company. The verdict which was passed on August 11 also states that sale of vehicles through negotiation did not incur loss to the company as the negotiated amount was deposited into the company’s account, and salvaged vehicles sold through negotiation obtained higher prices than the salvage value.

The court, the prosecution said, had failed to examine and fix liability on Kezang Tshering although he was the field officer, whose function is to inspect, assess, and verify loss of the insured property.

The court ruled that Ratan Mohanta had bought 10 vehicles through negotiations and the payment he had made was more than the payment reflected in the receipt issued to Kezang Tshering. “However, the prosecution had not charged Ratan Mohanta,” the verdict states.

The verdict also states that the statements that ACC had taken were not free from coercion or undue influence, as the statements submitted to ACC and before the court by the witnesses did not match.

One of the witnesses submitted to the court that he was called into a hotel by RICBL and ACC investigators, and his statements taken under coercion and harassment after a pistol was placed in front of him.

The prosecution in its appeal letter stated that only one witness had turned hostile. “Although three witnesses had corroborated the evidence against Kezang Tshering, the court had not considered and dismissed all statements as inadmissible,” the appeal letter states.

The OAG also charged Kezang Tshering on commission amounting to abuse of functions, possession of unexplained wealth, and false declaration with a view to conceal the 29-decimal plot that he bought jointly with his friend for Nu 840,000 in Pachutar, Phuentsholing. The court, however, altered the charge on false declaration and imposed a fine of Nu 45,000 on Kezang Tshering for non-declaration of assets.

The court also dismissed the charge of aiding and abetting against Kezang Tshering. RICBL had suffered loss of Nu 287,011 from the insurance claim on total loss basis by the owner of a Toyota Prado, due to reliance on inflated rates of spare parts, and the defendant failed to apprise the committee on such issues.

The court also exonerated two other defendants, general manager Dendup Tshering and deputy general manager Bhanu B Rai, who were charged for protection of public property and revenue and official misconduct.

The court however sentenced two defendants, RICBL’s official Sangay Dorji and mechanic Fajulal Haque to one year prison terms each for accepting bribes in connection with the replacement of a car’s cabin. Fajulal Haque, who hadn’t changed the cabin with a new one, was asked to restitute Nu 124,000 to RICBL.

Although the lower court had acquitted excavator owner Jigme Dorji Karchung on fraudulent insurance claims, he was asked to restitute Nu 2.218 million to RICBL. He claimed the insurance by submitting a false statement that his excavator got into an accident in Panachu, Pasakha, although the mishap occurred in Panikhola, India. RICBL’s Claim Manual 2011 states that the insurance is not eligible if the heavy earth moving machines get into accidents while working in a foreign country.

Rinzin Wangchuk