The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) has withdrawn a case from the 18 importers who were charged at the Phuentsholing drungkhag court for alleged tax evasion.

OAG wrote to the Anti-Corruption Commission’s (ACC) chairperson stating that the Case Screening Corpus (CSC) had determined that defendant Leki Tenzin, unlike other 17 importers, do not hold a trade license to import the alleged good, a bundle of copper wire stated to be used for making personal religious artifacts.

The letter also stated that although Leki Tenzin had used the same transport facility, the import of the alleged good was meant for personal use and not for business purposes that requires compliance under the trade rules and the Sales Tax, Customs and Excise Act, 2000.

OAG officials said the CSC also determined that charging Leki Tenzin like the 17 others holding trade licenses would violate Section 41 of the OAG Act, 2015, on public interest consideration.

“Hence, while 17 importers have been charged for tax evasion and are under active trial proceedings before the Phuentsholing drungkhag court, the proposed charge against Leki Tenzin has been dropped on the above cited grounds,” stated the Attorney General’s letter to the ACC chairperson. “However, if you perceive any presence of fact manipulations in our determination, kindly invoke section 128 of ACC Act.”

The commission charged Leki Tenzin, a goldsmith with the department of national properties (DNP) for importing his consignments worth Nu 9,690 undeclared and did knowingly and purposely evaded sales tax of Nu 4,845.

ACC’s findings revealed that Leki Tenzin along with 17 others based in Thimphu had not declared their consignments worth Nu 2.114 million at the Regional Revenue and Customs office’s entry gate in Phuentsholing, on November 21, 2014. The sales tax evaded by them stands at Nu 115,188.

The prosecutor registered the case with the drungkhag court on June 5 and requested the court to restitute Nu 0.968 million to the state inclusive of application fines and penalties from 17 importers for knowingly and purposely evading sales tax.

The consignments were transported by two truck drivers from Phuentsholing to Thimphu. The OAG has charged both drivers of the jumbo and DCM trucks for participation in an offence. Both trucks were seized by the commission and impounded with consignments of textiles in Phuentsholing.

ACC’s investigation revealed that the two drivers were not mere transporters for importers, but were agents with close relationships with inspectors and suppliers across the border and were capable of negotiating with inspectors to ‘mis-declare’ the consignments they transport.

Meanwhile, the commission has decided to return the two trucks to the rightful owners on the recommendation of the Attorney General (AG).

“Although the CSC has decided to leave the decision making privilege to ACC regarding the two DCM trucks seized during investigation, we would like to apprise you that, besides the seizure list thereof, those two trucks will not be required to adduce as evidence before the court to prove our charges nor relevant to restitution possibility that may entail in those respective cases,” AG Shera Lhundup stated in the letter. “Further, those DCM trucks are not owned by any of the alleged tax evaders.”

ACC commissioner Jamtsho said that two seized trucks are loaded with textiles. “So, we are looking for go down in Phuentsholing to keep the consignments,” he said.

The OAG also charged two regional revenue and customs’ inspectors for knowingly abusing their functions by omitting to assess and verify when one of the drivers declared consignments of importers at the entry gate in Phuentsholing.

The ACC began investigating after receiving an anonymous complaint alleging that a Jumbo truck and DCM were transporting goods from Phuentsholing to Thimphu without declaring taxes at the point of entry on November 21, 2014. During the course of investigation, the commission interrogated 29 individuals and two persons were detained and released on execution of bond.

The investigation established that the importers ordered their goods from Delhi, Siliguri and Jaigaon, India. The goods were sent by the suppliers and transported by the Jumbo-truck driver from Jaigaon to Thimphu.

Rinzin Wangchuk