The High court in its verdict on the Chang Ugyen case yesterday stipulated a three years non-compoundable jail term to the former Royal Advisory Councilor and Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) Vice President, Chang Ugyen in connection to an illegal land transfer case during his term as a Chang Gup in 1987.
The verdict means that Chang Ugyen will have to serve the full three years in prison with no possibility of thrimthue.
Chang Ugyen was handed over to the police immediately after the high court passed its verdict.
The High Court passed this verdict as the earlier verdict from the Thimphu District court of two years and six months where thrimthue could be paid was not found to be proportionate to the amount of crime he committed.
The verdict stated that the principal of proportionality punishment must be proportional to the crime one has committed or the value involved in the crime.
The land scam consisted of two cases that happened when he was the Gup of Chang gewog in 1987. He tampered with a 1967 Cha-za thram (oldest land thram) and created a new Thram for a 7 acres plot in Thimphu.
Chang Ugyen put the seven acres community land in Lubding and Lungtenphu, under his name and sold it to five unsuspecting buyers.
Accordingly, in the second instance, Chang Ugyen in 1985 converted his 2 decimal plots in Omkhar into three acres by forging documents.
Chang Ugyen became the Chang Gup in 1985 and was still in the office when the tampering happened. The Director of Land Record, Lhaba Duba, in charge of maintaining the Chaza thram received around 2.5 acres from Chang Ugyen from the seven acres plot, where land was registered illegally but transferred legally.
It was also found out that there was tampering and overwriting with the 1987 records in the land commission. This was further established when the tampered records were compared with the 1985 records and also the dzongkhag records of the same thram.
A high-level committee had originally uncovered 10 acres of land that was illegally transferred to Chang Ugyen’s Thram when he was a Gup.
The high-level committee interrogated and cross examined the statements presented by Chang Ugyen, Lhaba Duba and Sonam Norbu and found that page 20 of the thram was literary taken out under Chang Ugyen’s instructions.
The court verdict stated that Lhaba Duba who was then the Deputy Director General with the Land Record office intentionally violated the land Act and was held responsible for official lapses and Sonam Norbu whose duty was in land recording and other land related responsibility was equally found guilty of administrative lapse.
Therefore, the verdict stated that Chang Ugyen as a Gup had Thrams in his custody and he misused his office and tampered the documents intentionally for his advantage, and in doing so completely desecrated the roles and responsibilities of a Gup.
Upon the high-level committee’s recommendation the court order stated that Chang Ugyen should surrender the plots in Omkhar and Lubding to the government.
The National Land Commission had conducted an investigation into the Chang Ugyen land case, and forwarded the case to the Cabinet after which it was forwarded to the OAG for prosecution in 2014 based on the NLC’s evidences and recommendation for prosecution.
Chang Ugyen was the former Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) Vice President and one of its founding members prior to which he was a Royal Advisory Councilor.
A special high-level committee first uncovered these cases in 2003 set up to study land misappropriations in Thimphu. In 2005, the National Land Commission cancelled the thrams of around five buyers who had bought land from Chang Ugyen. Chang Ugyen went to court against the High Level Committee.
On April 30, 2008, Chang Ugyen filed a civil case in the High Court dissatisfied with the District Court verdict. However, since the criminal offences of tampering etc were not charge sheeted by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG), the court could not pass a criminal judgment. Clause 6.4 of the 2008 judgment, said that Chang Ugyen’s criminal activities require to be charged. The OAG at the time did not file any criminal charges as asked by the then High Court verdict.
As per the high court verdict in 2008 the five buyers were given their thrams back as they were considered by the court to be innocent bystanders as they bought the land following legal procedures. The court however acknowledged the right of the high level committee that investigated the case to have cancelled all the lagthrams of those who bought the land from Chang Ugyen.
The National Land Commission then gave Chang Ugyen a final deadline until 2011 by which he was supposed to replace the seven-acre land of equal value either in Thimphu or in other dzongkhags.
The Bhutanese newspaper in it’s first issue on 21st February 2012 investigated and highlighted the Chang Ugyen case which until then was not known to the public. The former government defended Chang Ugyen and the then OAG did not file any criminal charges as asked for by the 2008 High Court verdict.
Following the article, Chang Ugyen, until 2012 was unable replace the seven-acre land but later did so when the five buyers stepped forward to help replace the land. In regard to the three-acre land, he had given 10 decimals to former Gup Naku and sold 5 decimals to Dorji Wangdi. Therefore, Chang Ugyen was able to return the three-acre land to the government.