OAG drops 23 cases in ATM scam over no-show defendants

After failing to produce defendants before the court, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) withdrew eight cases of the 51 charged in the ATM card racket from the Phuentsholing drungkhag court on July 17.

OAG will withdraw 15 more cases for active and passive commercial bribery in the card racket in March this year following the court’s verbal order issued during a hearing yesterday.

The prime accused, a non-Bhutanese Sanjit Kumar Gupta, who is a businessman from the border town of Jaigaon, India, was charged on 59 counts of offences of active commercial bribery on repatriation of Indian Currency (IC) amounting to Indian Rupee (INR) 106.304 million(M) by using 320 Bhutanese ATM cards and trading in the black market.

He used 320 ATM cards belonging to 273 Bhutanese individuals from 2012 to 2015 by offering a commission of Nu 2,000 to each as hiring charges to enable him to withdraw INR.

The OAG’s prosecutor charged 50 Bhutanese individuals for passive commercial bribery as they worked as middlemen to collect ATM cards from the 273 Bhutanese individuals.

Each defendant received different amounts ranging from Nu 300 to Nu 2,500 per ATM card. Some worked for the prime accused as ATM card collectors and cash depositors into those 320 bank accounts. They were paid monthly salaries of Nu 10,000 to Nu 15,000.

OAG prosecutors could not produce the defendants before the court since they had changed their mobile phone numbers and lacked proper addresses.

“The court had been reasonable and gave us enough time but we could not locate them,” an OAG attorney said.

OAG officials said it was neither their mandate nor does it have any authority to present the defendants before the courts.

The National Assembly while discussing the annual report of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) 2016 on May 19 passed a resolution that the responsibility to summon defendants lies with the court of law once the OAG registered the case.

OAG’s chief attorney with the prosecution department Kinely Tenzin said that the attorneys rely on the investigating agencies such as the police or ACC for contact details.

“It is not only these cases related to the ATM cards,” he said. “There are many other cases, mostly in Thimphu where the court has refused to register the case because of the defendants’ absence,” he said.

The OAG had written to the ACC’s investigating officer but did not receive the updated details until the last minute before the court hearing in the courts.

“He had sent some details to me when I was about to enter the court for the case’s hearing,” he said.

In most cases, attorneys inform the defendants to come to court.

The OAG during the preliminary hearing on April 4 requested the court to detain the prime suspect fearing he might abscond but the court did not accept the request.

Sanjit Kumar Gupta had attended the preliminary hearing during which OAG attorney pleaded the court to order him to restitute Nu 10.366 million to the government based on the 9.75 percent interest rate charged when the government borrowed INR from India. “The defendant disappeared after that,” OAG attorney said.

ACC began its investigation on abuse of ATMs after the police in Phuentsholing on August 20, 2015, arrested Sanjit Kumar Gupta who had with him 28 ATM cards and forwarded the case to the commission on the grounds that it was a case of diversion of INR. The commission detained Sanjit Kumar Gupta for more than three weeks and released him on bail after he deposited a bond amount of Nu 200,000 to the commission.

The commission during its investigation had seized from him 35 ATMs of Bank of Bhutan Ltd (BOBL) and 116 ATM cards of Druk Punjab National Bank (DPNB). The investigators also seized two diaries where Sanjit Kumar Gupta had listed all the accounts he was using for his INR business. The diaries contained the list of ATM cards and their respective PIN numbers for him to withdraw INR from India.

He first bought his ATM from Karma Tenzin who gave him his two ATM cards of DPNB and BOBL. Karma Tenzin saw it as an easy opportunity to make money and went around Phuentsholing asking people to make ATMs for Nu 500. He made more than 50 ATM cards for which Sanjit Kumar Gupta paid Karma Tenzin Nu 2,000 per ATM.

Karma Tenzin paid the account holders Nu 500 each and kept the rest with him. Other account holders also helped Sanjit Kumar in securing ATM cards and deposited money in the accounts.

The accused hired the service of Wangmo to shift her account number to Wangdue dzongkhag to make the deposits for him. She was paid Nu 15,000 a month as salary. He used to deposit large sums into one of the accounts and send a cheque to Wangmo through a bus. She then withdrew it from the bank and deposited into different accounts.

The commission found that 273 people had sold their ATM cards to him. Most of them had sold two accounts of DPNB and BOBL to him, taking the number of ATM cards to 320 accounts.

The analysis of bank statements of the 320 accounts showed that Sanjit Kumar had withdrawn a sum of INR 106.304M from 2012 to 2015. He had been withdrawing a minimum of INR 30,000 a month. He then sold the INR to business firms in Jaigaon at a rate ranging from two to eight percent for every hundred.

 

Tshering Palden and Rinzin Wangchuk

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