Khothakpa Gypsum Mining (Photo Courtesy: Riku Dhan Subba’s Blog)

ACC starts investigation into Gypsum scam by seizing documents and computers in SMCL

The Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) launched its formal investigation into allegations of corruption in the sale of Gypsum by launching a raid in the State Mining Corporation Limited’s (SMCL) office in Samdrup Jongkhar on 15th March afternoon.

The ACC seized documents, computers, laptops and phones of the the SMCL General Manager Marketing and Sales Sangay Rinzin and SMCL Marketing specialist Kumar Pradhan. Raids were conducted both in the offices and at home.

The ACC also interrogated both Sangay Rinzin and Kumar Pradhan from the afternoon going well into the evening.

It also seized documents and computers of the transport company East Bhutan Private Limited where Kumar Pradhan is a co-founder and shareholder.

The ACC initially did around two weeks of intel collection to see if the case merits an investigation after it received a formal complaint on 1st March 2021. Then on 12th March the Commission gave the go ahead for the investigation.

There are around three teams of around 11 ACC officers in Samdrupjongkhar investigating the case.

The ACC teams could conduct the raid and do the questioning after getting a court order from the Samdrupjongkhar district court where as per the legal process it has to show evidences of a prime facie case of corruption to show that the raid is needed.

By all accounts this will be one of the toughest cases for the ACC to crack given that a lot of the illegality is happening across the border with partners in India and Nepal who are out of the purview of the ACC.

An additional challenge is also the absence of formal institutional links between Bhutan and Nepal like that between Bhutan’s Royal Monetary Authority and Nepal’s Central Bank called the Nepal Rastra Bank for sharing of banking information.

A complainant on 1st March filed an official complaint with the ACC alleging massive corruption in the sale of Gypsum by SMCL to Nepal and also in its transportation. A copy of the complaint was also sent to this paper.

The complaint alleged that the two main people involved in this were Sangay Rinzin and Kumar Pradhan with the latter being the mastermind.

The Bhutanese on 6th March published two investigative articles on the issue.

One article had multiple sources from Nepal saying that Bhutanese Gypsum in Nepal was being sold for much higher rates  at between INR 6000 to 8,000 (Nepal currency 13,000) per ton than officially shown. There were allegations that commissions are being paid in Bhutan above the official Nu 2,015 rate per ton. A syndicate member in Nepal even admitted to selling Bhutanese Gypsum in Nepal at around INR 8000 per ton (Nepal currency 13,000).

An Indian truck driver who transported Gypsum from Bhutan to Nepal for 10 years said that the actual rate Gypsum is being sold to Nepal is Nu 5,500 per ton as Nu 550 per 100 kg had been cut from his transport wages by the agent in Nepal when his truck was short by 200 kg.

A Nepalese cement factory located across the border in Nepal not far from Siliguri even offered to pay INR 5,000 per ton to Bhutan directly instead of paying Nu 6,000 to Nu 7,000 per ton to the Syndicate.

The paper also interviewed several Indian truck drivers who all said that EBPL in Bhutan collected a minimum of Nu 3,000 from each of them per trip and no receipts were issued for them.

If proven the cases above show that Bhutan is bearing billions in losses from this Gypsum scam.

Given the cross border nature of the crime one main aspect of the ACC investigation would be in looking into the computers and phones of Sangay and Kumar and to also question their associates within Bhutan.

The ACC team in Samdrup Jongkhar also has some IT forensic experts to retrieve any documents deleted by people on their computers and phones. This is expected to take some time but it will be crucial to cracking this cross border corruption case.

ACC normally handles domestic corruption cases and this is its first cross border one.

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