84 people booked in largest ever immigration scam

In what is one of the biggest scams involving the highest number of government officials, the ACC investigated and found around 84 people being involved in a huge immigration scam.

Of the 84 caught 30 are Immigration officials from Phuntsholing, four are police chuma, five are taxi drivers and the rest are employees and a few owners of 22 private Foreign Workers Recruitment Agency (FWRA).

The ACC investigated the case from November 2013 to December 2014 and handed over the case for prosecution to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) on 16th January 2015.

The OAG on its part filed the case on 11th May 2015. Each individual will be treated as a separate case in court.

It all started when the AntiCorruption Commission (ACC) received information from the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) about a bribery incident at the Tanalum check post involving some police personnel and taxi drivers.

The ACC carried out a special sting operation at the check post and caught a few drivers and police officials.

It was from this lead the ACC uncovered a larger and deeply entrenched systemic corruption in the immigration service in Phuentsholing.

The investigation started with a group of taxi drivers in Thimphu, who guaranteed absconding foreign workers a safe passage through the Tanalum check post with assistance from their immigration or police accomplices.

In addition to the taxi fare there was a special fee charged by the drivers for such service and it varied depending on the negotiating skills of the driver or the foreign workers.

The immigration and police officials got their cut depending on the number of people absconding.

The people absconding were normally construction laborers or even sub-contractors fleeing after receiving advance payment from contractors or not completing their work and escaping.

Bhutanese contractors and even house builders for years had been complaining about foreign laborers escaping with advance money. One aspect of their complaint also was about police officials and immigration officers not stopping such people.

One contractor had even informed the check post but his laborers still fled with the advance money.

Eventually the investigation uncovered different types of schemes at the entry and exit levels.

The ACC report said, “The corruption was so deeply rooted in the system that immigration officials, indulged in corrupt activity even when the Commission was investigating the case.”

In Phuntsholing it was found that either the employees or a few owners of 22 FWRAS were involved in bribing immigration officials on behalf of foreign workers. The FWRAS would do this in return for a commission from the foreign workers.

Immigration inspectors processed work permit for foreign workers based on fake voter ID cards after accepting bribes from FWRA. This arrangement specifically prevailed at two work permit counters that were responsible for the verification of documents.

Foreign workers have to remain at least six months outside Bhutan after completing the approved duration of stay but the immigration inspectors solicited bribes and issued work permits before six months.

Another opportunity for immigration inspectors was to negotiate for bribes when they detected foreign workers without work permits or cancelled work permits.

As per the law all foreign workers who are issued work permits must exit the country on or before the exit date mentioned on the card or end up paying a fine of Nu 165 a day.

The entry and exit records are captured on the immigration schemes.

In such cases the immigration officials dealt directly with the employers, who would deposit the money into their bank accounts instead of paying the penalty.

In one case a foreign worker was supposed to pay Nu 200,000 as fines but this was negotiated down and instead of the fine a smaller amount of bribe was paid to the official.

The immigration officials after accepting the bribe from the foreign workers and FWRA exited the workers by tampering with the immigration system.

Regional immigration office, as part of its policy, rotated their frontline staff every 45 days and stationed two inspectors in one counter but it barely seemed to have any effect in preventing corruption since accepting bribes had become a norm within the immigration work place.

The OAG charges against the 84 people are bribery with active bribery under section 42 of the ACC Act applying to those who took bribes and passive bribery under section 43 for those who gave bribes.

Other charges would be tampering with documents, forgery, abuse of function etc.

The civil servants and police officials charged in the case are suspended until proven innocent.

Those convicted will be terminated from the service as per RCSC and RBP laws.

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