The government has forwarded the controversial Bangkok Embassy case to the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) for investigation. The government forwards cases to the ACC if there is a prima facie case of corruption that needs to be further investigated.
“The Bangkok embassy case was forwarded to the ACC by November end 2011,” said a senior government official who did not want to be named.
This development will put to rest speculation that the Bangkok Embassy case had been given a quite burial due to the high profile nature of the case.
The Anti Corruption Commission also confirmed to The Bhutanese that the case had reached them. The ACC however is yet to review the Bangkok embassy case due to other ongoing cases on its hands.
The case first came to light in late 2010 when top Bangkok hospitals stopped taking in VIP Bhutanese government patients on credit which was the norm earlier and instead these hospitals were asking for upfront cash payments.
A two member investigation team consisting of the former secretary of the Ministry of Works and Human Settlement, Nima Wangdi and chief internal auditor of the foreign ministry, Karma Choeda was sent to Bangkok in April 2011.
The team found that 12mn bhat or Nu 18mn had not been paid to six major hospitals of Bangkok. Bumrungrad, Phyathai 2, Smaitivej, Bangkok hospital, Vibharam hospital and Rutnin eye hospital. Included in this Nu 18mn figure were bills of several private individuals who were not sent by the government and were yet to be identified. This was a surprising discovery as the unpaid bills are supposed to be only for government patients.
The government at the time took the case seriously as the credibility and image of the Bhutan Embassy and the country was at stake.
In the meantime the main person responsible for clearing these bills, the head of Chancery, Chenda Tobgye, suffered a ‘memory loss’ after he was hospitalized for brain fever.
This bizarre development considerably complicated the case as Chenda Topgay was in charge of the special medical budget in the embassy. This special medical budget was for the treatment of VIP patients like members of the royal family, ministers, senior government officials and in some cases ordinary people sent on Kidu.
The process for sending these VIP government patients is that an estimated amount is sent to the embassy for the patient’s treatment. This money is transferred to a special medical budget account managed by Chenda Topgay who was supposed to later settle the bills. If there was an excess or shortage of money sent by the finance ministry, Chenda Topgay has to submit the accounts and ask for additional money in case of shortage.
In some cases unpaid bills went back to 2004 and 2005 even before Chenda’s time.
The case overall reflected poor management and accountability in the management of the special medical budget by embassy officials in charge of it.
Chenda Topgay in his defense said that he would be clearing his mother’s bills himself. He further claimed that due to his mother’s death in 2010 and his illness he was not able to submit the accounts in time and thus it resulted in default of payment to the hospitals. He also claimed that he was not given enough time to work on the accounts and bills.
The government then gave Chenda Topgay another 30 to 45 days from mid April 2011 till approximately end of May 2011.
However, the government forwarding this case to ACC in late November 2011, six months after the deadline for submission of accounts by Chenda Topgay, shows that the government is not convinced and that all has not been accounted for.
The Bangkok embassy case being forwarded to the ACC is also in the backdrop of a recent Royal Audit Authority report that found misappropriation of Nu 200 million in fraud, corruption and embezzlement and mismanagement in Bhutanese embassies and missions abroad.
In the case of the Bangkok embassy the RAA report oddly skipped auditing this high profile special medical budget. What is also strange is that the RAA had not audited this special medical budget in its previous audits of the Bangkok embassy’s accounts.
The RAA report instead listed out other irregularities like irregular payments of US$ 14,880 for representational grant, US$ 33,840 toward payment of children education allowance and a double payment of Thai Bath 78,985 for medical expenses for its staff and family members.