The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) has withdrawn the bribery charges against the former survey and land record assistant director, Tshewang Gyeltshen, and a local from Talakha, Namgay, in connection with the transaction of 10 decimal land more than 17 years ago. The charges were withdrawn from the court on May 10.

OAG officials said that the bribery charges against the duo had to be formally withdrawn from the court as per Section 202 of the Civil and Criminal Procedure Code and Section 47(2) of the Office of the Attorney General Act after the two former Chang gups retracted their earlier statements.

The OAG charged Tshewang Gyeltshen for bribery based on the Anti-Corruption Commission’s (ACC) investigation findings before the Thimphu dzongkhag court along with 10 other defendants including two former Chang gups in June last year.

In its report forwarded to the OAG in June 2016, the commission alleged that Tshewang Gyeltshen and Namgay offered and accepted bribery of a 10 decimal land.

The OAG’s press release stated that although the year of Ani Norzom’s death was not ascertainable to ACC and the OAG, late Ani Norzom from Talakha in Chang gewog had died leaving behind 49 decimals of land in her name. When no relative survives, such land reverts to the State as ‘Tsatong’ or unclaimed land under the Land Act 1979. “However, Namgay had asserted himself as the nephew of late Ani Norzom’s late husband Khandu and claimed ownership of the land,” it stated.

ACC’s investigation determined that with guidance from the former Chang gup Naku, Namgay relocated the land from Talakha to Tsalumaphey and then apportioned 10 decimal for himself, 20 decimal to his father-in-law Kencho who was the former Chang Gup and sold 10 decimal to Dechen Youdon, wife of Tshewang Gyeltshen, and nine decimal to Wangdi. The ownership of the plots was transferred through Thimphu district court in 2001.

Sometime between 1999 and 2000, Tshewang Gyeltshen requested former Chang gups – Khencho and Naku to find someone willing to sell a plot of land around Babesa area. Hence, Namgay’s land was sold to Tshewang Gyeltshen in 2001.

Although Naku and Namgay sold 10 decimal of land to Tshewang Gyeltshen for a cost of Nu 30,000 that was also paid through Naku in three installments, the land was transacted as free of cost in the name of Dechen Youdon, as being the niece of late Norzom. The transaction documents were prepared by Namgay and Naku and Dechen Youden was called only to sign the documents before the court.

During the thram transfer process, Naku showed the location of the land to the surveyor at the site. Tshewang Gyeltshen was away on cadastral survey duty in other dzongkhags and his wife too did not attend the site survey. In the absence of cadastral survey map, the surveyors relied on the local leader’s confirmation of the site.

At the time of ACC investigation, the need to determine the cognate relation between late Ani Norzom, late Khandu and Namgay did not arise. Hence, the ACC report alleged those land transactions as fraudulent acts. “The same issue is now being adjudicated in the court,” OAG officials said.

In his statement to the ACC, Tshewang Gyeltshen stated that he had fully paid the sale price of Nu 30,000 through Naku in three installments. However, Naku and Namgay denied receiving the sale price. The land area too had increased at a later stage. ACC proposed to charge Namgay and Tshewang Gyeltshen for encroachment into state land.

The OAG also determined that since Naku and Namgay denied of having received from Tshewang Gyeltshen the sale price for the 10 decimal land the transaction tantamounts to bribery. “Hence, besides other charges against the former gups Kencho and Naku, and Dechen Youden, OAG had charged Namgay and Tshewang Gyeltshen for the bribery of 10 decimal land,” the press release stated.

However, during the course of court proceedings, Naku and Namgay had retracted their earlier statements and made depositions that they did, in fact, receive full sale price from Tshewang Gyeltshen in three installments as stated by him to ACC. Former gup Kencho too had retracted his previous statement and made depositions to the effect that he too did witness Namgay receiving the sale price, through Naku, for the 10 decimal land sold to Tshewang Gyeltshen.

Attorney General (AG) Shera Lhundup said that OAG’s Case Screening Corpus reviewed the factual changes and resolved to withdraw the bribery part of the charge. “Other charges are to be maintained as status quo for continued prosecutions,” he said.

AG said that since Tshewang Gyeltshen’s wife is the actual person legally executing transaction documents in her name, she is charged for encroachment and fraudulent transaction as niece of late Ani Norzom.

Both ACC and OAG alleged that Namgay had conspired to illegally transfer late Ani Norzom’s 49-decimal land from Talakha to Tshalumaphey village, Babesa in November 1998.

The investigation revealed that, not only did they fraudulently transferred the land of the late Ani Norzom, but also illegally surveyed the land at a different location on vacant government land and significantly inflated the plot acreage during the survey on November 20, 2000. Tshewang Gyeltshen’s 10 decimal plot was surveyed as 26 decimal, an excess by 16 decimal.

ACC report also stated that 26 decimal land was later sold to Naku at a cost of Nu 1.378M. In 2014, the commission impounded Tshewang Gyeltshen’s Prado alleging that it was bought with the illegal proceeds of 26-decimal plot sold to the former Chang gup.

Rinzin Wangchuk