A hushed but prominent discussion outside the High Court yesterday after the appellate court sentenced the former Royal Advisory Councilor, Chang Ugyen, to three years in prison, was: what about the others?
Yes, what about the others? But who are the others?
The news of the sentence spread like wild fire. There is public interest in it because it is an interesting, if not a high profile case. The convict had gone public accusing the government of politicizing the case, as it was a case that was settled a decade ago and then picked up by the Office of Attorney General. It is big because an elected leader, a former member of the Royal Advisory Council was involved.
Land is scarce and a thorny issue. If people, especially those entrusted to uphold the law and serve the people, had accumulated wealth through illegal sale of land or by misusing their office, they should be punished. The Court has proven that beyond reasonable doubt and has made him regret his actions. For those who doubt why a case was reopened after a decade, the law is clear.
Section 154 of the civil and criminal procedure code of Bhutan allowed the case to be reopened. It states that completion of a civil suit shall not preclude a plaintiff from exercising his or her right to prosecute the same defendant for crimes. The OAG had completed the prosecution. The defendant was involved in manipulating thrams, increasing his land holding and had illegally possessed and transacted government land.
While we wait to see if the defendant would appeal to the Supreme Court or if the highest appellate court would accept it, there is a keen interest if there would be other cases like this. Although not bold enough to point out, the hushed talks indicate that there are others. We don’t know who or what.
But it is fresh in the minds of the people that not long ago, a special investigation team had unearthed quite a number of similar cases. The cases range from irregularities of land granted as kidu, illegal registration of land in Chazhag thram, unauthorized allotment and conversion of land, illegal occupation of government land and illegal transfer and registration of tsamdro in individuals’ names.
People involved in the alleged illegal activity were from all walks of life. To be precise, there were land commission officials, dzongdags, elected leaders like gups, big businessmen and farmers. Some were dashos. The size of the land in question is huge. The case that was decided yesterday was one among them.
We have seen in the recent past that cases from the past can be dug up and those guilty punished. There is an old saying that the dry dung will smell more when dug. But if justice could be delivered, the age of the case should not be considered.
The question is if there are the others, who will investigate or prosecute them? Courts will not investigate old cases. They have plenty in hand. Will the OAG dig the dung or should we wait for someone aggrieved or encouraged by yesterday’s decision to appeal?