The much-awaited verdict on the Lhakhang Karpo case is out, bringing the case to an end, at least for now.
The dzongkhag court acquitted foreign minister Rinzin Dorje of all charges the Anti Corruption Commission had compiled after almost two years of investigation. He will have to pay only Nu 4,166 as restitution to the government within 10 days. The penalty was imposed after the minister was not able to produce receipts for using a government vehicle to transport timber to his construction site in Thimphu from Haa.
The commission charged several others in the case, but as an elected leader and a member of the cabinet, eyeballs were on the minister’s case. And going by the discussions both online and off, the verdict has not been accepted well. The case is highly politicised, even though it happened long before Lyonpo Rinzin Dorje joined the People’s Democratic Party. Convicting him would have huge implications on the party and therefore the government.
That is not unusual when a high profile figure is involved. But we have an independent judiciary and the decision of the court, after sitting on it for about five months, should be respected. We are not sure if the Office of the Attorney General, the government’s prosecuting arm, which also works independently and without pressure from the government, will appeal to higher courts.
The verdict will be scrutinised thoroughly, both by the Anti Corruption Commission, the OAG, and also by the public. The commission is already under the impression that the court has not comprehended the technicalities of the case. An appeal, therefore, seems likely. To be fair, at the moment, Lyonpo Rinzin Dorje is a clean man. He was not convicted for the two charges he was accused of.
The question going around, as the news of the verdict spread, was: did the ACC get their findings wrong?
The commission, after about two years of investigation, found the minister, the then dzongdag, guilty of abusing office of function, embezzlement of property by public servant and passive trading of influence involving public servant. According to the wisdom of the Haa court, there was no basis or evidence to prove him guilty of the charges. To borrow a line from Shakespeare, Lyonpo Rinzin Dorje is an honourable man.
Meanwhile, the case will drag on if it is appealed to a higher court. A change in the decision would mean further delay, as it would reach the Supreme Court.
In the meantime, the people of Shompangkha constituency in Sarpang are without a representative to Parliament, the foreign ministry is without a foreign minister, and Lyonpo Rinzin Dorje is on a long paid ‘authorised absence’ from the government.