Phuentsholing – a corruption hub?

Seven customs officials were detained and 15 business licences suspended since April 20

Update: With investigation entering its third month in Phuentsholing, the Anti Corruption Commission’s probe into the alleged customs mal-administration is likely to continue, as officials find evidences that could rebrand the commercial hub as the country’s corruption hub.

“The more you investigate, the more you uncover fraudulent and corrupt practices,” an ACC officials from Phuentsholing said. “It is going to take time to complete investigation.”

Beginning April 20, the commission started investigating the alleged customs mal-administration, entrenched corruption in the fraudulent import and deflection of goods, under invoicing and wrongful declaration of goods, tax evasion and illegal repatriation of INR (Indian rupee) through deflection of zero-tax commodities and producing fake import bills.

The commission, so far, has detained seven inspectors and customs officials with the regional revenue and customs office (RRCO) for alleged collusion and bribery cases. Six officials were released on bail after detaining them for a few days to a month.

ACC officials said two customs officials were released on June 28 while another one customs official and a non-Bhutanese are still in custody.

Sources said that some customs officials were found to have huge deposits in their saving accounts. For instance, a young inspector, who joined the RRCO in 2010 and has little over Nu 12,000 monthly salary, has four bank accounts – two in Phuentsholing and other two in Thimphu. He had been reportedly depositing between Nu 20,000 and Nu 90,000 in his accounts.

ACC investigators found that the inspector in question had more than Nu 6 million transactions done from his accounts maintained with different banks. He was detained for a month for not cooperating and refusing to share the source of income with the ACC.

The commission last month forwarded its findings on this inspector to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) for prosecution.

ACC officials also said that the investigation report of the Udee ticketing agencies and Udee clearing agent, which is reportedly run by a customs official’s family member, is ready and will be forwarded to the OAG within a week.

Over the past week, the commission also suspended three business licenses in Phuentsholing taking the total number of licenses suspended to 15.

On June 25, the ACC suspended business license of Rigsom Enterprise, which belongs to Sonam Choden, after finding a prima facie case of corruption. Earlier on June 15, the business licence of Rabten Pharmaceutical and Medical Supplies was suspended.  The main for suspending business licenses was related to fronting and the evasion of tax through under declaration of imported goods.

The commission is empowered by section 24 (1) (g) of the Anti-Corruption Act of Bhutan 2011, which states that upon finding a prima facie case of corruption, the commission can suspend a licence, or prohibit an individual or entity whether national or foreign from participating in contractual relations with public agencies till pending the outcome of the case.

Rinzin Wangchuk

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