Viewpoint Resort

BoB owed around 280 mn for Viewpoint Resort for which collateral is resort’s cancelled land

ACC also has to take over remaining 4 plots of land with Ugyen Tenzin’s family

While the Supreme Court verdict on the Trongsa Land Scam is out, there are two ends of the case that now needs to be tied up.

The first is what will happen to the Viewpoint Resort built by Lhab Dorji’s wife Karma Tshetim Dolma and the second loose end is the remaining four plots still with the former High Court Registrar General Ugyen Tenzin’s family.

The Resort

It looks like the losers of the Trongsa Land Scam verdict is not only Lhab Dorji and Karma Tshetim Dolma, but also the Bank of Bhutan (BoB) which funded the Viewpoint Resort.

As of today, the bank is owed around Nu 280 mn in loans.

Ironically, the collateral for the loan was the land on which the resort was built which comes to around 4.7 acres consisting of 2.77 acres fraudulently bought from two sisters Sonam Choden and Yangchen and 1.93 acres of government land created falsely on the spot.

With the verdict this entire 4.7 cares are now government land which means that BoB cannot even takeover this land as collateral for the loan.

The loan had been given following all due process and the collateral land had proper lagthrams.

One option for BoB is to try and negotiate with the National Land Commission (NLC) to take the land on lease and take over the resort.

However, this is easier said than done as the resort which was closed since 2015 has not been run or maintained and is in a decrepit state. There is a danger of the Nu 280 mn loan not being recovered at all.

In the meantime,  the court order as upheld by the Supreme Court gives two options on the Viewpoint Resort.

The first is for the government to take over the resort and compensate Lhab Dorji’s wife with an amount decided by a government committee.

In the event the government does not want to take over the  resort then Karma Tshetim will have to demolish the entire resort at her own cost.

The ACC which will be implementing the verdict will soon be writing to the government to find out if the government would like to purchase the resort. Failing this the entire resort needs to be demolished.

An ACC official, however, said that it may be difficult for the government to buy the structure since the owners stopped running the hotel for years since 2015 and abandoned the resort with the result that the entire structure is rundown.

Lhab Dorji and his wife has blamed the freeze notice issued by the ACC in 2015 for them not running the hotel or maintaining it.

However, the ACC official said that the freeze notice pertained only to stopping any transaction of the land in question and did not prevent them from running the hotel.

The ACC official cited a letter sent to ACC from the family in 2016 or 2017 where they asked if they can do maintenance to the place. The ACC had replied saying the family can do what it likes.

The ACC official said in December 2021 based on a high court order the OAG had compensated around Nu 36 mn to the daughter of a former Chang Gup as she had constructed a building on government land encroached by her father.

However, the ACC official said the difference there was that the firstly it was an explicit order from the High Court and secondly the building was in good condition.

In the case of the Trongsa Land Scam, the Trongsa District Court had ruled that the government can either buy the resort or that it has to be demolished at the cost of the defendants.

However, it had also said that if Karma Tshetim is proven innocent during the judicial process then the ACC would have to take over the resort and pay around Nu 300 mn in addition to annual revenues and bank interest rate.

The High Court ruled that ACC did not have to provide compensation since the resort was built on land acquired via corrupt means.

What also does not help Lhab Dorji and his wife are two additional factors. One is that the government is facing a severe budget crunch and is instead negotiating to buy some private schools.

On the other hand, the stabbing of an ACC Director and assault on an ACC Commissioner and the ruckus created at the Supreme Court may have evaporated any goodwill left for Lhab Dorji due to his past services in the government system.

The only hope is the BoB bank, but this is incumbent on the NLC agreeing and also the condition of the resort which is not good. It would have made sense for BoB to take over a running resort with a steady revenue stream, but now it will be run down and empty structures that will require huge additional investments.

The ACC will anyhow write to the Ministry of Finance asking if the government is interested in buying the resort. The MoF could then depute some experts to see what the resort is valued at.

The four remaining plots

One of the main aspects of the Trongsa Land Scam was how Lhab Dorji as the Trongsa Dzongda did not delete the 8 plots belonging to the two sisters Sonam Choden and Yangchen in Trongsa as they had got land compensation of five acres at Gelephu through a Royal Kasho in April 2003.

The Dzongda instead worked to get 4 of these plots of 2.77 acres transferred to his wife Karma Tshetim without the knowledge of the two sisters using forged sale deeds, fake witnesses and forged thumbprints.

The former High Court Registrar General Ugyen Tenzin who is the husband of Yangchen was also implicated as he sent a fake power of attorney without the knowledge of his wife a day after the Trongsa court transferred the four plots based on the forged documents.

Since the 8 plots were not deleted on the kappa the updated Blue Thrams based on the kappa were issued. 

Once the Dzongda’s wife took over the four plots the remaining four plots of around 1.7 acres stayed in the Thram of Sonam Choden and Yangchen and these plots are now transferred to their children.

The ACC tried to restitute these four plots in the Trongsa Dzongkhag court but the court said it is a separate case for which they must file a separate case.

An ACC official said that now that the Supreme Court verdict has established the plots to be illegal they will write to the NLC and get these four remaining plots back to the state.

Sentencing

The ACC official said Lhab Dorji and his wife receiving 5 and 6 years each has to do with two factors.

The first is the fact that they were convicted under the Bhutan Penal Code which is applicable in their case than the more lenient Thrimzhung Chenmo applied in other earlier cases.

He said it also had to with the number of charges or the number of times they broke the law in the case.

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