It was always evident that the ACC’s investigation of corruption allegations around Gypsum would be its most difficult case, and this paper said as much when they started their investigation.
The reason being that this was ACC’s first attempt at a cross border investigation and all the main information, wrong doing and importantly evidence lay in Nepal and partly in India.
If ACC was to ever have a chance of cracking this case then they should have sent teams to Nepal and India to discover the real rate of Gypsum on the ground, collection of illegal transportation money etc.
However, our closed borders, a raging pandemic in India and Nepal, jurisdictional issues and lack of will resulted in the investigation being focused only in Samdrupjongkhar.
At the end of the day, the ACC’s investigation in this case, at best, can be called ACC’s most incomplete and shoddy investigation.
Incomplete, because of the reasons above and shoddy because ACC essentially talked to the accused and accepted whatever they said without verifying it in Nepal and India.
The investigation is also careless in some counts. For example, ACC has made much of the fact that the complainant’s estimate of Gypsum export figures are not correct.
This is something The Bhutanese pointed to in its first story and corrected it by going with the official SMCL export figures which was not readily available.
The same information had been denied to the complainant and so early on he acknowledged his estimates on exports could be wrong. However, this was never the crucial information in the case as the main issue was pricing.
The ACC investigation is also egregious on some counts because it extracted the most important piece of information, which is the price of Gypsum in Nepal, from the main accused syndicate member instead of independent sources.
This is like the ACC accepting the estimates of a corruption accused contractor in Bhutan based on a phone conversation with the contractor and without actual on the ground verification and measurements.
The best thing ACC could have done was to wait till the pandemic situation improved and then sent teams out requesting the cooperation of local authorities.
Even if jurisdictional issues did not allow for actual investigation in Nepal or India, it could have done a study tour or a simple information gathering exercise, talked to independent sources and gathered basic evidence.
The information, at the least, would have helped Bhutan to get better rates.
Instead, the ACC ended up banging its head on the wall in Samdrupjongkhar for two frustrating months where there is no evidence, and then declared there was no evidence of collusion and price fixing.
How can the ACC ever find evidence in Samdrupjongkhar when all the information and evidence is in Nepal and India?
The Bhutanese based its findings after interviewing close to two dozen sources in Nepal and India.
The ACC has based its findings after talking to all the accused and accepting what they say without verifying it on the ground.
This maybe why the ACC release turns on the complainant instead and talks of ‘political and socio-economic impacts’ and need for restraint.
Maybe something ACC should tell itself after doing its two week long intel gathering and deciding there is a prima facie corruption case and even seeking a court order for search and seizure based on this belief.
The latest issue of The Bhutanese has a detailed story on where the ACC went wrong or could have done much better in its investigation.
The only saving grace is that the ACC, while halting the investigation, has not closed it completely and have said they may reactivate the case on getting new information.
This is a half acknowledgment that ACC could not get to the bottom of the issue.
This is certainly not ACC’s finest moment and it also show’s ACC’s Achilles heel which is its inability to investigate cross border cases.
This is also a real matter of concern as the biggest financial crimes and corruption cases are actually cross border.
An example here is the massive industrial fronting that is still happening on our southern borders in collusion with Indian partners leading to long term loss for Bhutan.