ACC: The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) has dropped the fraud and conspiracy case involving land acquisition and substitution during the establishment of the Institute for Language and Culture Studies in Taktse in Trongsa.

In a letter to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), Attorney General Shera Lhendup said that based on its empirical findings, OAG has decided to drop the case.

Alleged persons implicated in various offences in the ACC report include former Trongsa Dzongdag Lhab Dorji, his wife Karma Tshetim Dolma, former drangpon Ugyen Tenzin, former Dragteng Gup Tenzin, former Nubi Gup Phuntsho, and National Land Commission’s surveyor Kelzang Nima.

The OAG stated that Sonam Choden, Yangchen and Gyalmo were the three owners who sold their land to Karma Tshetim Dolma.

The commission forwarded its findings to the OAG on July 17, 2015 after finding a prima facie of illegal transactions of land that were listed under Thram No 514 of the education ministry, allocation of land substitution and regularisations of excess lands which are in direct relation to the land acquisitions for the establishment of ILCS.

In 2011, Gyalmo filed a case against Karma Tshetim Dolma at the Trongsa court but it was dismissed as the matter was adjudicated by the same court before.  Gyalmo then submitted a petition to His Majesty’s Office in 2013, but the investigation by the Gyalpoi Zimpon’s Office found no actionable cause. She then lodged a complaint with ACC in April 2013.

Although the land sold or complaint lodged by Gyalmo had no relation with that of the land sold by Sonam Choden and Yangchen, ACC also carried out investigations of the land transactions of the two sisters.

Sometime in 1997, the education ministry decided to shift ILCS from Semtokha in Thimphu to Taktse under Dragteng gewog in Trongsa. For land acquisition purposes, a Land Acquisition Committee (LAC) was constituted by Trongsa dzongkhag with 11 members including  the dzongdag and Dragteng gup. LAC was responsible to identify and finalise private lands to be acquired and determine choices of compensations opted for by the private landowners.

After finding that the Cabinet-approved area of 43 acres was insufficient, Royal University of Bhutan initiated additional land acquisition from 38 private landowners from the surrounding villages of Taktse, Eusa and Tashidingkha. Landowners made several changes in their options between land substitution and monetary payment. By 2006, out of 38 private landowners, nine landowners opted for monetary compensations and 29 opted for land substitutions, including Karma Tshetim Dolma for the lands she had bought from the three land owners.

However, while reviewing the report, OAG found no merit to initiate criminal proceedings. OAG stated that upon diligent determinations of the facts and evidence contained therein, the ACC report and official records of other relevant authorities, OAG found no merits to initiate any of the recommended criminal proceedings against the alleged suspects as the alleged transactions were found to have been caused due to administrative lapses of the state and failure of  a few individuals who had died before ACC’s investigation.

It stated that the basis of ACC’s investigation on the alleged transaction of government lands hinges solely on Thram No 514 that was held in the name of the education ministry. The Thram listed eight different plots measuring 4.56 acres purported to have been acquired from Sonam Choden and Yangchen. It is not specified which educational institute was meant to hold the Thram.

ACC’s investigation found that in 2005, Karma Tshetim Dolma colluded with Dragteng Gup Tenzin and late Tshogpa Rinchen in order to fraudulently register four plots of land measuring 2.77 acres at Taktse, which were already acquired by the ministry and registered under Thram No 514 in 2003.   The forged sale deeds were processed through Trongsa court with the intent to claim land substitute in Nubi gewog where Karma Tshetim Dolma had later constructed a resort after land substitution was approved by the Department of Survey and Land Records in 2007.

ACC alleged that both the then Trongsa Dzongdag Lhab Dorji and Dragteng Gup Tenzin had the full knowledge of the four plots having been acquired by the government. ACC thus recommended OAG to charge the alleged suspects for forgery, false reporting, aiding and abetting, illegal registration of excess land and official misconduct.

However, OAG stated that the complex nature of the issues involved in the ACC report has compelled OAG to refer other records to confirm the facts to sustain recommended proceedings against the alleged individuals. Accordingly, cogent documents that are material to the case were acquired from the Office of the Gyalpoi Zimpon, NLCS and ACC. From the diligent scrutiny of  2.77 acres of alleged land transacted, the record confirmed that the Thram No 514 was created in pursuant to the Royal Kasho granted on April 4, 2003.

However, the number of plots and areas of the lands were in deviation to the Trongsa dzongkhag’s committee report based on which the Royal Kasho was issued. The committee report listed only six plots with a total area of 4.53 acres, while Tharm No 514 listed eight plots with a total area of 4.56 acres.

The official records of NLCS confirm, without possibility of mistake that Thram No 514 neither belonged to Taktse Middle Secondary School nor to ILCS, as their respective lawful Thrams are No 599 and No 600.

OAG also stated that Sonam Choden and Yangchen had consistently maintained during ACC investigations that the alleged lands were not sold by them but by their late parents, who in turn, were always assisted by late Rinchen Gyalpo, the village tshogpa.  Yangchen had also recounted having signed several blank forms at the behest of her late mother for such land dealings in their absence.

Some facts were alarming enough for the investigation of the grave problems that were associated with Thram No 514.  The processes of land acquisition from 38 private landowners were still ongoing but Thram No 514 had listed only eight plots purported to have been acquired from Sonam Choden and Yangchen, including four plots that Karma Tshetim Dolma had later bought from the two sisters.

Although the records demonstrate that the listed eight plots were marked to have been deleted from the 1980 Chazhag Thrams of Sonam Choden and Yangchen, the eight plots continued to reflect a status quo in the New Sathram Compilation (NSC) report of 2003, based on which the Blue Thram number 505 and 506 of the two sisters were issued through the dzongkhag in 2004. This had enabled the parents of the two sisters to sell the alleged lands to Karma Tshetim Dolma in 2005.

Out of the eight listed plots under Thram No 514, only four plots were actually acquired for ILCS. Five acres of land substitution in Gelephu was granted on the basis of six plots acquisition report submitted by the Trongsa dzongkhag committee to the Gyalpoi Zimpon Office.

A copy of the dispatching register of NLCS sent to OAG confirmed that the copies of the Royal Kasho and other official communications thereto were sent only to the Sarpang dzongdag, Gelephu gup and Thimphu Survey Office. “Hence, the Trongsa dzongdag and Dragteng gup were not informed of the land substitution kidu granted to late Drukpon Kinzang Dorji in Gelephu,” the OAG stated.

The OAG stated that the afore-cited facts render it conclusive that Thram No 514 had remained in isolation without effecting necessary changes in the newly issued Blue Thrams of the two sisters. That enabled the alleged transaction without fault of the purchaser, dzongkhag court and other dealing officials, who made their decisions based on the standing official Thram Records issued by NLCS to the dzongkhag and gewog Land Records.

The ACC investigation report determined that Lhab Dorji, while he was Trongsa dzongdag, had used his official position to extend undue advantage to his wife Karma Tshetim Dolma. It was alleged that former dzongdag and his Assistant Land Record Officer, late Sangay Younten, had prepared a note-sheet with intention to create evidence to record that the cash compensation list was revised after consultation with the concerned landowners.

However, the OAG review findings stated that late Sangay Younten had prepared the alleged note-sheet and was put up for the dzongdag’s approval on the revised list of landowners who had opted for cash compensations for the lands acquired by the government. The dzongdag’s remarks on the note-sheet stated the need to seek further approval the changed list. “Further, the liberty to choose compensation mode from the available choices is an exclusive privilege of the landowners whose lands have been acquired by the government,” the OAG stated. “Hence there is no basis to sustain the alleged commission of forgery.”

OAG also stated that there is neither any basis to sustain a charge for tampering of public records, nor reporting of false information to DSLR with ulterior motive by Lhab Dorji as the correction of two plots were rightfully sought from the Surveyor General.

On the two counts of official misconducts, OAG stated that the land substitution process initiated administratively by the dzongdag was in keeping with the specified requirements of the Satshab Allotment Guidelines. “Hence, there is no basis to file charges against the former dzongdag for official misconducts as perceived by the investigation,” it said.

Meanwhile, ACC officials said that the commission still has not officially received a formal communication from OAG dismissing the case. “Nonetheless, the commission maintains that there are strong grounds to prosecute the case,” a commissioner said.

The commissioner added that ACC and OAG did meet a couple of times to discuss the case but in none of the instances did ACC agree to dismiss the same.

Rinzin Wangchuk