Assembly: Law enforcement agencies should continue to manage seized goods and properties, National Assembly (NA) members decided yesterday.

This comes after the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) suggested a separate agency be established to take care of goods and properties seized by the commission and other relevant agencies.

The seventh session of the NA instructed the finance ministry to study the recommendation of the assembly’s good governance committee and submit a report.

The good governance committee recommended the ministry to establish a division under the Department of National Properties (DNP) to manage the goods and properties by the law enforcement agencies.

Finance minister Namgay Dorji submitted before the Assembly that the ministry conducted a consultative meeting with officials of ACC, Office of the Attorney General (OAG), police, Road Safety and Transport Authority (RSTA), Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA), Royal Monetary Authority (RMA), Department of Revenue and Customs (DRC), and the agriculture and forests ministry.

“During the consultative meeting, all enforcement agencies stated that DNP was not the right agency to manage seized goods and properties,” Lyonpo Namgay Dorji said.

He said that as per existing laws, OAG was responsible for ensuring safe custody of seized goods but the office could not fulfil the mandate due to lack of human resources.

“DNP was responsible to maintain and dispose national properties after the legal proceedings are complete. “DNP does not have capacity and facility to provide safe custody of seized goods,” the finance minister said.

He also said DNP would have legal, institutional, infrastructural and human resource challenges if it is mandated to manage the seized goods and properties.

Lyonpo Namgay Dorji cited sandalwood and illegal arms as an example. The agriculture ministry and police are the relevant agencies for the two items. “If DNP has to manage the seized goods, we need experts on all seized goods,” he said. “So it’s not practical.”

He said the finance ministry conducted thorough studies and it is not practical for DNP to manage the goods. So it should be with relevant agencies, he said.

Panbang MP Dorji Wangdi said there are issues in regard to seized goods and properties and it has to be resolved.

“There should be a department under OAG to take care of seized goods and properties,” he said. “If OAG has a human resource problem, government and OAG should discuss.”

Khar-Yurung MP Zangley Dukpa said he is a member of the good governance committee and the committee proposed that DNP should take care of the seized goods, as DNP takes care of government properties. “Where ever it is kept, it has to be auctioned by DNP.”

He said even if the seized goods are kept with OAG or ACC, when it is sold or disposed, it should be done by DNP through auction.

Bartsam-Shongphu MP Wangdi Norbu said the good governance committee discussed about ACC’s recommendation and the committee saw issues when OAG takes care of the seized goods, as OAG is the prosecuting agency and there will be a conflict of interest.

Wamrong MP Karma Tenzin said it is important to make it clear that OAG takes care of the seized goods and properties until the case is complete and if the owner wins the case, it will be returned to the owner. “If the person loses the case, it will be handed over to DNP and auctioned.”

Drametse MP Ugyen Wangdi said it is not right for OAG to take care of the seized goods and properties as they prosecute only criminal cases. But the seized goods are mostly with the departments of customs and forest. “So it is not practical for OAG to manage all the goods.”

He said relevant agencies should take care of the goods but the NA should direct the agencies to sell the goods and deposit the money with the government.

Speaker Jigme Zangpo said that all relevant agencies could manage the seized goods like it is done at present.

Meanwhile, it was learnt that the recommendations to establish an independent agency to take over seized goods were made following allegations that seized goods like sandalwood and controlled drugs were not accounted for and were sold off.

Tashi Dema