Their earlier confessions to the ACC, they say, were made under duress

Lhakhang Karpo: In the ongoing Lhakhang Karpo case, the project engineer, Tashi Gyeltshen, while submitting his rebuttal statement before the district court in Haa last week, denied soliciting or accepting bribes from a contractor and a supplier.

The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) has charged Tashi Gyeltshen on two counts of passive bribery of a public servant.  He is charged with receiving a bribe of Nu 100,000 from TNW Construction’s owner Tshewang Rinzin in Haa, and accepting a Samsung phone worth Nu 33,500 from Nima of Pema Tshongkhang in Paro.

Rebutting the first charge, Tashi Gyeltshen submitted that Nu 100,000 was collected from Tshewang Rinzin and retained as a security deposit in his personal account.  Tshewang Rinzin was awarded the contract to supply sand to the Lhakhang Karpo project on June 17, 2011.

The defendant said Tshewang Rinzin had extracted 120 truckloads of sand and kept it at the IMTRAT helipad area.  The supplier had then requested the project engineer to verify and pass the bill for 120 trips. “I told him that it wasn’t possible to accept the bill for all the trips, since the sand was not sieved, and I asked him to claim for 70 trips only,” Tashi Gyeltshen said.

He also said that a payment of Nu 705,839 was released for 70 truckloads, after the supplier sieved the sand and handed over to the project. “Only then I returned the security deposit of Nu 100,000 to Tshewang Rinzin,” he said.

OAG’s prosecutor, however, refuted his claim, saying that the payment for 70 trips was made to Tshewang Rinzin before the sand was even sieved.  The inferior quality of sand, mixed with wooden debris and huge boulders, can still be seen at a corner of the IMTRAT helipad area, according to prosecutor Ugyen Wangchuk.

The OAG also rebutted that, if Nu 100,000 was kept as security deposit, the amount should have been deposited with the dzongkhag administration’s account, or handed over to the finance officer. “If it wasn’t a bribe money, as claimed by the defendant, then the amount shouldn’t have been deposited in his personal account,” the prosecutor submitted.

The prosecutor said both Tashi Gyeltshen and Tshewang Rinzin, in their statements to the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) on November 12 and 13, admitted that they solicited each other with bribery.  OAG will submit the defendants’ exhibit before the court during evidence hearings.

The ACC found that the sand collected was not sieved, as per the specification of the contract, and Tashi Gyeltshen had not objected nor initiated a test in any laboratory for technical approval. Further, Tshewang Rinzin had not transported the sand to the site.

Tshewang Rinzin, who is charged with active bribery of a public servant, and supplying poor quality of sand, also pleaded not guilty, saying he hadn’t bribed the project engineer.  However, in his statement submitted to the court, Tshewang Rinzin said that he borrowed Nu 40,000 from Tashi Gyeltshen to be adjusted at the time of claiming his final bill.  While claiming his bill, Tashi Gyeltshen told him to deposit Nu 100,000 as security money, which he did, according to Tshewang Rinzin.

In his second bribery charge, Tashi Gyeltshen said that he didn’t receive the Samsung Galaxy phone as a bribe from Nima, but that he paid Nu 16,000 and has yet to pay the balance amount of Nu 17,500.

The OAG representative rebutted that Nima bribed him with the phone worth Nu 33,500 in return for allowing forged bids and clearing an amount of Nu 624,720 in payments for repairing the existing water supply at Lhakhang Karpo and purchase of construction tools. “They also submitted their statement to the ACC that no payment was made for the cost of mobile phone,” he said.

The court has decided to conduct a cross-examination hearing on March 17, as both Nima and Tashi Gyeltshen contradicted their statements.  Nima claimed that he had bought the phone from Jaigaon, India and received a half payment from Tashi Gyeltshen.

Tashi Gyeltshen, however, stated that he had given Nu 16,000 to Nima after learning that he was going to New Delhi, India.  When ACC interrogated Tashi Gyeltshen, he had denied paying any amount for the phone, and confirmed that he did not have anything to be paid to Nima.

The project engineer, who is also charged on seven counts of official misconduct, forgery and embezzlement, submitted to the court on March 3 that there were some inconsistent submissions during the court proceedings and ACC’s interrogation.  He alleged that ACC had interrogated him under duress and made him give a false statement.

“Otherwise, they keep on interrogating and don’t let you go,” he said. “Therefore, I request the court to base the submissions made before the court.”

By Rinzin Wangchuk