Nima Wangdi

The Supreme Court (SC) held an opening of statement hearing of the Trongsa land case in the afternoon of December 28. 

Former Trongsa Dzongda Lhab Dorji, his wife Karma Tshetim Dolma, former Drakteng Gup Tenzin,  former land surveyor Narayan Dangal, who were involved in the case appealed to the SC after the High Court (HC) upheld the Trongsa dzongkhag’s court’s verdict.

Lhab Dorji was sentenced to five years in prison for forgery, official misconduct, and execution of the document by deception. Karma Tshetim Dolma and the then Drakteng Gup Tenzin were sentenced to six years in prison each for fabricating sale deeds, submitting false reports to the courts for transfer of land ownership and for deceptive practices.

The defendants were given non-compoundable sentencing, where they will not be allowed to pay thrimthue in lieu of prison term.

A former drangpon, Ugyen Tenzin, former Nubi gup Phuntsho and former land surveyor Narayan Dangal were also sentenced to 18 months each in prison but they could pay thrimthue.

Gup Phuntsho was sentenced for forgery and Narayan Dangal for aiding and abetting and official misconduct. Ugyen Tenzin was sentenced for forgery.

The opening of the statement was presided by three justices. Only two appellants, Lhab Dorji and Karma Tshetrim Dolma’s lawyers could make their submission. Lhab Dorji also made his own submission supplementing his lawyer.

The total submission took two and half hours after which the court adjourned as the day ended. The hearing for the other appellants will be held at 2pm on January 5.

Thram number 514

The appellant’s lawyer submitted that his client, Karma Tshetim Dolma (KTD) never had any knowledge that the 4.56 acres of land were acquired by the government from the two sisters in Drakteng gewog in Trongsa and registered under a mysterious thram no 514 of the education ministry.

KTD bought the land from the two sisters.

He submitted that the 2.77 acres of land, which she bought were never acquired for Institute for Language and Culture Studies (ILCS) from thram No 180 and 181 of Sonam Choden and Yangchen but only later from the appellant Karma Tshetrim Dolma’s thram no 555 after the transaction.

The lawyer submitted that thram no 514 was fictitiously created by drangpoen Ugyen Tenzin using his connection with the then joint director Ugyen Tackchu of NLCS to simply project as if the eight plots incorporated under thram no 514 were acquired for the education ministry in order to obtain the Royal Kasho for land substitute from Gelephu.

“Having no land acquisition process conducted by the dzongkhag land acquisition committee, Drangpon Ugyen Tenzin had submitted to the NLCS an application to delete certain plots from the old thram no 180 and 181 of Sonam Choden and Yangchen,” the lawyer submitted.

A person named Naten, who was actually engaged in creating this fictitious thram proved it was fictitious in his statement to the ACC. “In his statement, he claimed that he created that thram under Sherig Laykhung’s (education department) name following the verbal directive of the joint director Ugyen Takchu without any supporting document,” the lawyer submitted.

He submitted that only drangpon Ugyen Tenzin, Ugyen Tackchu and Neten of DSLR knew the existence of the fictitious thram no 514. “Even the Sherig Laykhung, gewog or Trongsa dzongkhag did not know it. It was meant to be later destroyed to erase all traces of their misdeeds,” he submitted.

The lawyer submitted that except for drangpon Ugyen Tenzin’s letter to NLCS, with regard to the creation of thram no 514, there are no other legal papers or any other land acquisition process ever carried.

The lawyer submitted that the Thram no 514 is registered with Kunzang Dolma, not Sherig Laykhung as the ACC claimed.

“Thus, in this case, the appellant is an innocent buyer of genuine land which was not at all acquired by the government. It makes no sense for the appellant to knowingly buy a troubled land risking her money,” the lawyer submitted.

The lawyer said there is no basis that ACC should charge his client for forging the land sale deed when thram 514 itself was fictitious.

“My client, KTD, who has done no crime has been given a prison term of six years and the main person who actually created the real fuss has gone scot free with a compoundable prison term,” the lawyer said. “It is the ACC who is corrupt, not my client.”

Unfair trial

The lawyer submitted that the Trongsa dzongkag court gave ACC the opportunity to present the case details to the court but his clients were not. “We should have got the same opportunity to present our sides,” he submitted.

The court also gave the ACC a repeated opportunity to submit evidence until it was sufficient to punish my clients. “ACC was given the opportunity to submit evidence three times,” he submitted.

The lawyer submitted that if he were the judge presiding over the case, he could have simply dismissed the case when the evidence was insufficient instead of asking the ACC to resubmit evidence repeatedly.

“The court didn’t allow my clients to present their witnesses to the court,” he said.

He submitted that one of the landowners accused Lhab Dorji to have paid her the money for land at Shambala hotel in presence of the owner of the hotel. “We requested the court to call the owner of Shambala hotel to the court as a witness, but the court refused it. “It was unfair.”  

According to the lawyer, former dzongdag Lhab Dorji was already transferred to Mongar by then and his travel evidence showed that he was at Yongkola in Mongar on the day he was accused to have paid the money at Shambala hotel in Trongsa.

The appellants requested the SC to reconsider the case as the HC and dzongkhag courts have overlooked many facts to convict them.

The next hearing will be conducted on January 5.