Judiciary: The proprietor of Sambhav Estate Builders has appealed to the High Court to dismiss his conviction, saying all charges framed against him were baseless and irrelevant.

Real estate developer, Dechen Tshering, appealed to the High Court after the Thimphu district court’s bench V in March, convicted and sentenced him to 132 years and nine months in prison for committing various offences, including tax evasion, fraudulent insolvency, forgery and breach of contract.  However, a fine of Nu 5.973M (million) in lieu of the sentence was allowed to be paid.

Of the 132-year nine-month prison term, 66 years and nine months pertained to the non-payment of the monthly loan instalment to the Bhutan National Bank limited  (BNBL) and the issue with the  nine buyers, who bought flats from the appellant.

During a preliminary hearing attended by the bank’s representative and nine flat buyers on May 29, Dechen Tshering submitted a 13-page petition, with evidence of more than 30 pages of documents, justifying that there was no reason to convict him in a civil suit.   

The lower court also unnecessarily summoned nine buyers, although there was no connection with the loan repayment case, he submitted.

On the alleged evasion of tax amounting to Nu 2.025M, for which he was sentenced to 45 years, Dechen Tshering said he was not charged by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) or the revenue and customs office for evading tax, which is an offence under the penal provision. “There was no relation or link with the civil case between him and the BNBL,” he said.

He submitted that he paid the tax for selling his flats to the revenue accounts in 2010 and 2011.  The lower court had asked Dechen Tshering to pay the evaded tax within a month. “It can’t be construed as tax evasion as the revenue and customs office is yet to complete its tax assessment report, which would state if I’d evaded tax or not.”

On the loan re-payment issue, he said that the issue was not about closing the loan accounts, but about the payment of overdue of scheduled loans and bullet loan’s interest.

He said that, after holding several negotiations with BNBL, the total default amount accumulated to Nu 24.669M, including overdue of scheduled loans, bullet loan’s interest and overdue from other loan accounts, as of December 31, 2013. 

“Hence, I deposited Nu 37.457M, more than the defaulting amount of Nu 24.669M on May 5, 2014,” the appellant submitted. “There was no reason to close my loan accounts of the mortgaged properties.”

The bank on May 8, 2014 issued no objection towards the transfer of ownership from Dechen Tshering to 16 buyers, who bought flats from him between 2009 and 2011.

Dechen Tshering said he could not transfer the ownership of the flats to his buyers, since he hadn’t received occupancy certificates.  Then the government had frozen land and building transaction due to the National Cadastral Resurvey of Thimphu thromde.

He submitted before the appellate court that he was now ready to transfer the ownership of the flats to the buyers, since Thimphu thromde had lifted the land and building transaction freeze notice from April 20, 2015.  He also claimed that some buyers haven’t paid him in full for the additional cost incurred, as per the transaction agreements executed between the seller and buyers.

He appealed that the lower court had not reviewed these facts before sentencing him.

Dechen Tshering also appealed that the High Court lift the transaction freeze notice issued by the lower court for his properties, which were not mortgaged with the bank.  He reasoned that, without the court lifting the freeze notice, he was unable to repay the loans.

By Rinzin Wangchuk