ACC: Among the hundreds of seized items that were auctioned yesterday in Phuentsholing, Chotalal Shah’s seized cardamom worth Nu 2.986M was auctioned off at Nu 4.321 million (M).

The 2,655 kilograms of cardamom were among the several goods that the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) had seized in its ongoing investigation  at the country’s biggest commercial hub.

The second day of the auction at the dungkhag administration conference hall were for goods belonging to four enterprises, which were run by non-Bhutanese in the name of Bhutanese license holders.

The cardamom’s actual price was Nu 3.982M but the auction committee comprising of 11 members had set the floor price, like other goods below 25 percent of the maximum retail price (MRP), at Nu 2.986M.

Bidding started from Nu 3M and went up to Nu 4.321M when a local businesswoman, Kinzang Choden of KC store, bid her last price.

Chotalal Shah’s food items worth Nu 2.751M out of Nu 2.236 were also auctioned off.

Of the food items worth Nu 5.546M from Dorji Wangmo Tshongkhang, yesterday’s auction saw goods worth over Nu 2.611M being sold off. However, DP Tshongkhang’s goods amounting to Nu 2.802M, was able to auction items worth Nu 0.244 and YP Enterprise, which had goods worth Nu 0.885M managed to auction off items worth Nu 0.256M.

There were no takers for incense sticks, biscuits, toothpaste, pickle, sauces, soaps and nonedible items.

Over the two days, grocery items worth Nu 28.520M that the ACC seized from eight business enterprises in Phuentsholing, 14 Bhutanese bidders bought goods worth Nu 16.256M.

All proceeds from auction, according to the commission, will be deposited in the Escrow account until all legal proceedings are completed.

The ACC closed down and seized grocery items of DP Tshongkhang, Rigsom enterprise, IS enterprise, Burmi enterprise, Norzang trading, Chotalal Shah store, Dorji Wangmo Tshongkhang, and YP enterprise in April and July after finding a prima facie of corruption such as commercial bribery, fronting, tax evasion and deflection of goods.

An ACC commissioner said that the goods were auctioned as per the Anti Corruption Act 2011 which states that where any movable property seized is liable speedy decay or deterioration, or is property which cannot be maintained without difficulty, or which is not practicable to be maintained, the commission may sell or caused to be sold the property.

The commission, which began investigation from April 20 on customs mal-administration to multiple issues ranging from simple fronting to complex issues of money laundering, revealed that the officials entrusted to ensure all importers and business entities to comply with the existing laws had turned a blind eye.

For instance, revenue and customs officials were entrusted to physically check and verify invoices and goods. However, the commission reportedly found that such checks were rarely done, which led to prepare fake invoice to conceal real price and reduce quantity in the invoice with values of invoices getting reduced by more than 400 percent.

Similarly, regional trade and industries office requires any licensee to sign an undertaking that “a licensee shall not engage in fronting.” However, in reality, licenses are given on hire.

ACC officials said that the illicit business grew rampant among business establishments in Phuentsholing whereas the enforcement agencies chose an easy path, that is, to do nothing under the pretext of not being able to do anything. “In most cases, they are also indirect beneficiary of the fraud,” an ACC official said adding that the situation has worsened with the surge of rupee crunch.

By Rinzin Wangchuk, Phuentsholing