Stalled cases back under ACC’s scanner

These include the BHEL and Nubri Capital cases, among others

Investigation: With the completion of investigations on alleged customs maladministration and entrenched corruption in the fraudulent export and import businesses in the country’s commercial hub of Phuentsholing, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has begun investigations on stalled alleged corruption cases, some dating as far back as 2009.

One of these stalled notable cases is the alleged corruption charges involving Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd (BHEL), a public sector undertaking (PSU) of India, and a local Bhutanese company, Bhutan Ventures Trading (BVT), over a hydropower project tender. The other one the ACC is investigating is the irrational investment made by an insurance company in Nubri Capital.

BHEL

The BHEL corruption issue came into the limelight after the Cabinet surrendered three secretaries to the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) in December 2014 for allegedly taking the matter of foreign relations into their own hands without consulting the government.

ENERTIA, an Indian journal on sustainable energy and power, alleged that BVT and BHEL colluded to win the contract, and secretaries and ministers from both India and Bhutan, including the former Indian ambassador, Bhutan’s former economic affairs minister and secretary were involved in the act.

ACC officials said that they are reviewing available documents and gathering information as and how the two agents, BHEL and BVT struck a deal for supply of electro-mechanical equipment to Punatsangchhu II and Mangdechhu hydropower projects.

The investigation into the alleged corrupt practices comes two years after the government had requested ACC to investigate the charges of corruption on the appointment of BVT as the sole agent for BHEL.

“As you are aware, the ‘ENERTIA’ magazine in India, ‘The Bhutanese’ newspaper and bloggers in Bhutan have all raised questions in the appointment of BVT as the agent for BHEL,” the Cabinet wrote to the ACC in December 2014.

“In this regard, the government would appreciate it if the ACC could conduct necessary investigations to rule out ‘conflict of interest’, misuse of public funds or corruption involved in requiring and appointing a BHEL agent in Bhutan,” it is stated in the Cabinet letter.

The letter stated that a detailed report along with considered recommendations of the ACC should be submitted to the Prime Minister at the earliest for his kind information and necessary perusal.

ACC officials said that the former commission could not take up this issue due to an ongoing investigation into the entrenched corruption cases in Phuentsholing. “With the completion of investigation, the commission has now re-assigned the task to a team who is reviewing the contract documents,” an ACC official told Kuensel.

Nubri Capital

The commission also began a probe into the allegation of an irrational investment made in the country’s first private fund management company, Nubri Capital. The investigation is reportedly being carried out based on the complaint the commission received through an anonymous letter.

The Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan Ltd (RICBL) management is accused of of lapses in the letter, misuse of authority and favoritism. It also alleged that RICBL had invested Nu 100M in Nubri Capital on February 5, 2013 at an annual interest of 9.25 percent. Four days later, RICBL borrowed Nu 108M from Nubri Capital at a monthly interest of 11.75 percent.

The letter also alleged that Nubri Capital made several investments with RICBL at varied interest rates, the highest being 12.25 percent annually, and there was no fixed borrowing or lending term between RICBL and Nubri Capital.

In an earlier interview, the RICBL’s management clarified that the allegations were baseless and was made to tarnish the company’s image.

RICBL’s chief executive officer, Namgyal Lhendup had also clarified that the company invests wherever they have better options and in this case, it was Nubri Capital. He also claimed that there is no conflict of interest.

“Whatever RICBL invested in Nubri was redemption fund in the form of bonds to be paid to investors on maturity,” Namgay Lhendup said in his earlier interview with Kuensel.  “In case of Nubri, we had the provision to withdraw the fund before the maturity period where as other financial institutions don’t allow such options.”

The Royal Monetary Authority approved Nubri Capital Pvt Ltd to be fully owned and operated by Bhutanese nationals as Bhutan’s first Fund and Assets Management Company in 2012.

Ongoing investigations

The commission is also trying to clear a huge backlog of complaints, mostly fraudulent land cases dating back to 2009 where a former drangpon was allegedly involved in the fraudulent and illegal registration of 10-acres of government land in the name of a private individual in Chukha.

The investigation into this case, according to ACC officials, is almost completed and investigation findings are being compiled to be forwarded to the Office of the Attorney General.

The commission is also reportedly looking into the alleged abused of official misconduct by a former drangpon, who was accused of altering the court’s ruling from life imprisonment to 10 years in connection with a choeten vandalism case in Mongar. As per the existing law, the judge has no authority to change the judgment once passed by the competent court.

The other land case, which ACC is investigating, was the illegal transfer of four acres of government Tsamdro land into the name of a serving gup in Thimphu. The gup in question, who was recently elected in the second local government elections, is reportedly being interrogated for his fraudulent action.

ACC officials said about 14 cases, including BHEL and Nubri Capital, are being investigated. “Most of these were stalled cases. We have to see there is a case to pursue further. If not merit for investigation, we will drop those backlog cases,” he said.

The commission received on an average 450 complaints annually from 2006 to March 2015, of which 16 percent of the total complaints qualified for investigation.

However, the actual number of complaints taken up for investigation constitutes only about 3.4 percent of the total complaints received. This has created a huge backlog of complaints to be investigated.

“Nonetheless, the ACC has significantly reduced the back-log through desk reviews and information enrichment and verification,” Commissioner Jamtsho said.

Rinzin Wangchuk

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