Preliminary hearing of lhakhang Karpo case held

For almost two hours the charges against seven of the accused were read out 

Corruption: In a small courtroom filled with eight defendants, three bench clerks and two prosecutors from the Office of the Attorney General (OAG), the Haa court drangpon, Duba Drukpa, presided over the preliminary hearing of the lhakhang Karpo corruption case yesterday.

It took about 2 hours and 45 minutes for the three bench clerks and two OAG representatives to read out the charges against the seven individuals, who were implicated for abuse of functions and official misconduct to forgery, bribery and embezzlement.

Foreign minister Rinzin Dorje, who was then the Haa dzongda, is charged on two counts of abuse of functions.  Lyonpo Rinzin Dorje is charged with favouring LD Sawmill by awarding timber sawing works worth Nu 1.403M without approval of the tender committee.  He is also charged with using the dzongkhag’s DCM truck to transport his private timber from Haa to Thimphu.

Lyonpo was asked to refund Nu 80,000 to the government for the 10 trips made in transporting private timber for his building construction in Pamtsho.

The former Katsho gup, Tshwang Penjore, had leased LD Sawmill from a Leki Dorji, and supplied the total sawn timber of 37,224.86 cubic metres.  The OAG representatives submitted that the former dzongda had awarded the contract illegally without consulting the tender committee, and the payment was made based on Nu 37.7 per cft, which the committee had initially rejected.

Although Tshewang Penjore was not criminally charged, the OAG asked him to refund the entire amount of Nu 1.403M to the government.

The highest number of charges is against the project engineer of the lhakhang Karpo conservation project, Tashi Gyeltshen.  He is charged on seven counts of official misconduct and three counts of bribery, forgery and embezzlement.

Tashi Gyeltshen is charged with soliciting and receiving a bribe of Nu 100,000 from the owner of TNW construction, Tshewang Rinzin; for accepting a Samsung phone worth Nu 33,500 from Nima of Pema tshongkhang, and for allowing forged bids and clearing an amount of Nu 0.624M in payments for repairing the existing water supply at lhakhang Karpo.  He also received a HP laptop, along with an external drive worth Nu 46,000, for helping to build a nunnery in Wangsisina, Thimphu from contractor Kuenzang Rinzin.

The project engineer is also charged with embezzlement of Nu 74,985 through ghost names on muster rolls. He is also charged with official misconduct in using other’s licenses in bidding and executing a gabion wall at Katshochu, extension of crematorium in Haa, soling of Baytsho farm road, and fencing of the girls’ hostel at Ugyen Dorji higher secondary school in 2010 and 2011.

Project manager Wangchuk Tshering, along with Tashi Gyeltshen, is also charged with embezzlement of Nu 74,985 through ghost names on muster rolls.  The project manager is also alleged to have waived off Nu 0.10M worth of woola (labour contribution) for his relatives and neighbours.

The construction supervisor (lapon), Lhab Dorji, is charged with embezzling Nu 3,000 each that was collected from 30 households in lieu of labour contributions.  He is also charged with official misconduct, since he told some villagers to inform ACC that they contributed woola.

TNW construction’s owner, Tshewang Rinzin, is also charged with passive trading to influence, as he had bribed the project engineer with Nu 100,000 in May 2011 and for supplying poor quality of sand from the IMTRAT area.

Nima of Pema tshongkhang is charged with forgery as he forged bid documents and bribed the project engineer.  Druk Leading enterprise’s owner, Pema Wangchen is also charged with aiding and abetting the crime as he helped Nima to quote high rates.

All seven defendants requested the court to give more time for their submissions against the charges the OAG framed against them.

Foreign minister Rinzin Dorje, will submit his opening statement to court on February 27. “I’ll have to study the charges and, based on the gravity of charges, I will decide whether to hire a legal counsel or fight the case myself,” lyonpo Rinzin Dorje told Kuensel after the preliminary hearing.

Tashi Gyeltshen and Wangchuk Tshering will rebut their charges on February 25, Lhab Dorji on February 26 and Tshewang Rinzin on March 2.

However, Nima and Pema Wangchen will rebut on February 18.  Tshewang Penjore, who the OAG has asked to refund Nu 1.403M, will submit his statement on February 27.

His Majesty commanded to reconstruct the 120-year old lhakhang Karpo, the residence of Haa valley’s guardian deity, Ap Chundu.  With an initial budget of about Nu 30M, the five-year project began on January 13, 2010 with the construction of two drashas or living quarters for monks.

ACC took up the lhakhang Karpo case after they received an anonymous complaint about the misuse of project funds by officials concerned and took two years to complete its investigation.

By Rinzin Wangchuk, Haa

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