In a stunning turnaround of events, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) has dropped the entire Trongsa land case which consisted of multiple land transactions involving six people like former Trongsa Dzongdag Lhab Dorji, his wife Karma Tshetim Dolma, former Dragten Gup Tenzin, former Nubi Gup Phuntsho, National Land Commission surveyor Kelzang Nima and former Drangpon Ugyen Tenzin.
Meanwhile the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) in a statement said that ACC still has not officially received formal communication from the OAG dismissing the case. “Nonetheless the Commission maintains that there are strong grounds to prosecute the case.”
The ACC said that the Commission and the OAG met a couple of times to discuss the case but in none of the instances did the ACC agree to dismiss the case.
Of the above people the main accused were the former Dzongda and his wife but the OAG which reviewed the case from July 2015 onwards has given a point by point rebuttal to ACC’s investigation findings giving a clean chit to all of the above and stating there is no legal basis to prosecute them.
The OAG not only looked at the legal context but also did its own review of the main evidences.
Thram No 514
According to the OAG the main flaw is the main evidence of Thram Nu 514 which was the main charge against much of the above.
The ACC finding was that in 2005, Karma Tshetim Dolma colluded with Dragten Gup Tenzin and late Tshogpa Rinchen in order to fraudulently register four plots of lands measuring 2.77 acres at Taktse which were already acquired by the MoE and registered under Thram No. 514 in 2003 with the then Department of Survey and Land Records.
The ACC said forged sale deeds were processed through Trongsa Court with the intent to claim land substitute at Nubi Gewog where Karma Tshetim Dolma had later constructed a resort after land substitution was approved by the Department of Survey and Land Records (DSLR) in 2007.
ACC states that both the then Trongsa Dzongdag Lhab Dorji and Dragten Gup Tenzin had the full knowledge of those four plots having been acquired by the government. ACC thus recommended OAG to charge alleged suspects for the offence of forgery, false reporting, aiding and abetting, illegal registration of excess land and official misconducts.
According to the OAG the main Chazag Thram had recorded Thram Nu 514 as a separate MoE plot for which land substitution was granted in Gelephu through Royal Kidu in April 2003 but that information was not reflected on the newly issued Blue Thrams of the two sisters that enabled the alleged transaction without fault of the purchaser, Dzongkhag court and other dealing officials who made their decisions based on the standing official Thram records issued by NLCS to the Dzongkhag and Gewog Land Records.
Moreover the OAG report says a copy of the Dispatching Register of NLCS, confirmed that the copies of the Royal Kasho and other official communications thereto were sent only to Sarpang Dzongdag, Gelephu Gup and Thimphu Survey Office. Hence, the Trongsa Dzongdag and Dragten Gup were not informed of the land substitution kidu so the OAG said they had no information on Thram Nu 514 already being registered by the Ministry of Education.
Charges against Lhab Dorji
The ACC investigation report determined that Lhab Dorji, while he was Trongsa Dzongdag, had used his official position to extend undue advantage to his wife Karma Tshetim Dolma.
The ACC charged him with one count of forgery saying he and his Assistant Land Record Officer (ALRO), late Sangay Younten, had prepared a note-sheet with intention to create an evidence to record that cash compensation list was revised after consultation with the concerned landowners. Gup Tenzin had denied to the ACC that such a meeting ever took place.
The OAG said that as no other absentee person was involved in signing the note-sheet, there was neither need to commit nor any evidence of actual commission of forgery by the Dzongdag on the note-sheet. Hence OAG says there is no basis to sustain the alleged commission of forgery.
ACC had charged the Dzongda with tampering of public record and reporting of false information to DSLR. The ACC report states that a letter from the DSLR sought clarifications only on Yangchen’s Thram but the Dzongdag Lhab Dorji, in his response to the letter, had also requested DSLR for the correction of erroneous entry of plot No.110 with registered area of 0.51 acre, instead of Plot No.105 with surveyed area of 1.10 acre. Hence, the ACC said that Dzongdag Lhab Dorji colluded with ALRO to fraudulently create an additional plot with an increased area under late Lhaden’s Thram No.495. ACC alleged that the motive behind new plot creation was to increase the plot size from 0.51 acre to 1.10 acre and Dzongdag Lhab Dorji had failed to give justifiable explanation to ACC.
The OAG in its review of the NLC maps found no additional plot was created other than the survey’s duly assigned Plot No.105 to a land with registered area of 1.10 acre under late Lhaden’s Thram No. 495 during its resurvey as entry of any unassigned plot number will automatically be rejected by the record system of NLCS;
The OAG said that the two cited maps substantiates that the legitimate area of Plot No.105 was 1.10 acre and not 0.51 acre as asserted by ACC. The wrongfully entered Plot No.110 with area of 0.51 acre OAG says is a clear case of double entry as the same plot lawfully belonged to Yangchen under her Thram No.181;
The OAG says the correction request of the Trongsa Dzongdag was carried out as per established process and it is an integral responsibility of a serving Dzongdag to do so.
ACC report states that Lhab Dorji, as Dzongdag and Chairman of LAC, had materially aided his wife to process and transfer 2.77 acres and subsequently claimed satshab at Thumang under Nubi Gewog. However, OAG says it is not so and was done based on standing land records and through the Trongsa Dzongkhag court.
The OAG said it is conclusive that the land substitution process initiated administratively by the Dzongdag was in keeping with the specified requirements of the Satshab Allotment Guidelines. Hence, there is no basis to file charges against Dzongdag Lhab Dorji for official misconducts as perceived by the ACC investigation.
Charges against others
ACC asserts that Karma Tshetim Dolma colluded with Gup Tenzin and fabricated false sale deeds purporting to have bought four plots from Sonam Choden and Yangchen. The OAG said that transactions of 2.77 acres of land between the parties were as per established due process of law and based strictly on the standing official records of plots.
ACC stated that Karma Tshetim Dolma colluded with Gup Tenzin and knowingly fabricated sale deed for 2.18 acres of land from late Lhaden as the same plots were already acquired by MoE and were listed for monetary compensation from the government in 2004. Lhaden’s daughter Gyalmo was original compliant and based on her complaint the ACC found that Karma Tshetim Dolma deceived Gyalmo by making her believe that the payment made to her was government’s compensation for her land acquired by government. The OAG said the allegation of Gyalmo being deceptively made to believe that the payment that she had received from her land purchaser as government compensation payment for the land acquired, cannot sustain before court of law as all the sale deed, land transaction form and court judgments were all forensically proven to have been signed by Gyalmo herself, which formed the very basis of the court decision allowing ownership transfer
The ACC said that during the Trongsa NCRP survey in 2010, Karma Tshetim Dolma, in collusion with field Surveyor, Kelzang Nima, had fraudulently registered one additional plot measuring 1.933 acres as GY plot.
The OAG said it does not find any evidence of collusion between Kelzang Nima and Karma Tshetim Dolma as the applicable guidelines, notification and the Royal Kasho directed the field surveyors to measure and regularizes excess lands that fall under the definition of plot “Y” in favor of the lawful Thram owner.
The OAG also said that various charges against Gup Tenzin also did not have legal and evidence basis. These charges from the ACC were forgery on the sale deed and court application form of Yangchen, forgery on sale deed and court application form of Sonam Choden, reporting of false information to court and solicitation.
OAG also said there is no evidence to sustain forgery charges against ex-Gup Phuntsho in getting community clearances.
ACC report states that, without due authorization of his wife Yangchen, former Drangpon Ugyen Tenzin had issued power of attorney authorizing late Rinchen Gyalpo to represent his wife before Trongsa Court for the purpose of transferring 2.03 acres of the land’s ownership to Karma Tshetim Dolma.
Although Yangchen had initially stated to ACC that she could not remember authorizing her husband to issue such power of attorney, she had appeared before the Attorney General and stated in writing of her clear recollection of asking her husband to do the needful, generally with regard to any matter related to her.
The OAG said that besides there being no complaint lodged on the sale and ownership transfer of her land, the alleged power of attorney issued by Ugyen Tenzin has not prejudiced any person’s right, as required by section 296 of the Penal Code, to constitute as forgery in law. Further, the power of attorney issued was activated only to fulfill the due process for the representational requirement. Hence the act of issuance does not merit a boon of criminal contention before court of law.
The Attorney General Shera Lhendup said, “The faulty records created by administrative lapses of the state machineries cannot become criminal liabilities for individuals who acted in good faith on such resultant public records.”
The ACC is expected to give a counter rebuttal to the OAG once it reviews the OAG’s official findings.