Gelephu drungkhag court sentenced a 23-year-old man to six years and a 34-year-old woman to two years in prison for larceny by deception in a United States visa scam case.
Kuenga Gyeltshen from Sipa village in Larjyab, Dagana, was given a six-year non-compoundable sentence for conning more than 22 people by claiming to be a public relations officer for the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) at the Delhi Embassy and promising them to facilitate their US visa process.
Sherab Chenzom from Kheshing of Lumang gewog, Trashigang, was sentenced to two years in prison for aiding and abetting Kuenga Gyeltshen’s crime. She can pay thrimthue in lieu of prison term.
The incident dates back to March 2016, when Sherab Chenzom went to New Delhi to apply for a US visa at the US Embassy where she met Kuenga Gyeltshen.
Kuenga Gyeltshen claimed to work as a public relations officer for the UNV and helped her fill the forms for the biometric process for the visa interview.
When Sherab Chenzom’s visa got rejected, the two kept in contact through social media app, Wechat, and he assured he could arrange invitation letter for interested Bhutanese to go to the US to attend the Woodstock Film Festival in New York as part of Bhutanese cultural performers in the name of the drayang her husband owns in Gelephu.
She then looked for 17 clients, including her husband, brother and sister and created a Wechat group called ‘Film Festival’ to discuss with the clients.
Although the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) charged Kuenga Gyeltshen for two counts of impersonation, four counts of forgery and five counts of larceny by deception, the court acquitted him for impersonation, two counts of forgery and one count of larceny by deception.
The judgment stated that Kuenga Gyeltshen was acquitted of the charge of impersonation, as OAG could not prove that he impersonated a UNV official beyond a reasonable doubt.
It also stated that although there are statements from people claiming that Kuenga Gyeltshen said he worked for UNV, he denied it. “Although there are elements of deception and cheating, the mere statement of claiming to be a public relations officer at UNV does not constitute an offence of impersonation.”
The judgment stated that impersonation has to be that of a real person, as it concerns the dignity and name of the person and office and not of a fictitious one.
The court acquitted him for two counts of forgery stating that although he sent fictitious invitations, it is not proven whether he committed the crime or someone called Yeshi Namgay, who is in New York committed it.
Kuenga Gyeltshen was sentenced to one year and three months in prison for forging documents to sent fictitious invitations to Choden and Deki Dolma.
He was sentenced to four years in prison for deceiving and taking Nu 892,500 from 17 people routed through Sherab Dema.
The crime was graded a fourth-degree felony.
He was sentenced to four months for taking Nu 125,000 from Chimi Dema.
Although he was acquitted for taking Nu 71,000 from Jimba Jatsho and Sonam Wangmo, as the two people stated they requested Kuenga Gyeltshen to apply for New Zealand visa, he has to restitute the money to the couple.
He was sentenced to five months for taking Nu 11,200 from Choden, Nu 41,200 from Deki Dolma.
The judgment stated that the sentencing was also based on his past criminal record since Thimphu district court has convicted him twice for theft in 2015 and 2013.
The court also ordered Kuenga Gyeltshen to restitute Nu 892,500 to Sherab Dema within four months from the day the judgment is rendered, restitute Nu 60,000 to Ugyen Dema and Ratu, Nu 125,000 to Chimi Dema and Nu 11,200 from Choden, Nu 41,200 from Deki Dolma. He will have to pay the money by July 20.
The court, however, altered the charges for Sherab Chenzom from solicitation to aiding and abetting, reasoning she did not solicit the crime intentionally and sentenced her to two years in prison.
The judgment stated that she collected more than Nu 1 million (M) from 17 people because she believed in Kuenga Gyeltshen and with the intention to help people avail US visa. “She was given half the sentencing of four years for larceny by deception rendered to Kuenga Gyeltshen.”
She should also restitute the money she collected from the 17 clients by July 20.
Meanwhile, the court stated that it is important for people to remain cautious and route through the proper and legal channel while applying for a visa.