This is to be done through a ‘Letter Rogatory’ issued through diplomatic channels from the Kerala High Court to a Court in Bhutan
In an exclusive interview the CBI Superintendent K. Krishnakumar investigating the Bhutan Lottery scam in India said that the CBI has requested the Kerala High Court to issue a ‘Letter Rogatory’ or ‘Request for information’ from Bhutan on the lottery scam.
The ‘Letter Rogatory’ is an international practice of the court of one country requesting information from a foreign court, is expected to reach Bhutan by this month through diplomatic channels.
Under this letter a competent Bhutanese court will summon all relevant documents and individuals connected to Bhutan Lottery and gather the information requested in the Letter Rogatory. The testimonies given by the Bhutanese officials will be given as sworn testimony to be used in the Kerala High Court.
This will be a significant move as so far Bhutanese lottery officials have not yet been questioned on the multi-billion Bhutan Lottery scam.
“The letter will ask for information on all aspects of the lottery cases with respect to the Bhutanese government. These will include specific and relevant question related to the lottery in Bhutan and also request for lottery documents,” said CBI’s Cochin unit superintendent K. Krishnakumar.
He said that once the letter came to Bhutan the letter would be treated as per the laws of Bhutan and also on the bilateral understanding between the two countries.
The documents asked for would include agreement copies, the RAA Audit report on Bhutan Lottery and other documents related to lottery operations in Bhutan.
In response to a question on what if Bhutanese officials did not cooperate the CBI officer said, “First, we are expecting that the Bhutanese officials will cooperate. If the response is negative then we will take action at various levels, if there is a need.”
He, however, made it clear that Bhutan was a sovereign country and so the CBI cannot question or directly investigate any Bhutanese official based in Bhutan.
Superintendent K. Krishnakumar, however, stressed that the cooperation of Bhutanese officials would be crucial as the most important aspect in the investigation of the Bhutan lottery cases.
In response to a question on what if the Kerala court found some Bhutanese officials guilty he said, “We can only inform and recommend action through diplomatic channels and it will be up to the Bhutanese government.”
He said that a Letter Rogatory was only asked for after detailed consultations in India. The Union Home Ministry of India had given the CBI the green light to file for such a letter with the Kerala High Court which had asked for the CBI investigation in the first place.
The Indian Ambassador in Thimphu, Pavan K. Varma said, “Once I receive the Letter Rogatory we will deliver it to the Foreign Ministry in Bhutan for implementation.”
The Ambassador said that the Foreign Ministry, then only, would hand over the letter to a court in Bhutan.
Currently Bhutan and India have an extradition treaty and are signatories to a Mutual Assistance for Criminal Matters, Suppression of Terrorism for sharing information on terrorism, etc.
However, the Attorney General Phuntsho Wangdi said that both countries do not have a functioning Mutual Legal Assistance Convention as the SAARC Mutual Legal Assistance Convention is yet to be ratified by some member countries.
An official from the Foreign Ministry said that they receive requests from Indian courts for information through diplomatic channels on mainly cross border cases but this was the first formal Letter Rogatory of its type.
“When we receive such requests for information it is treated on a case by case basis. Once we receive such a request we will seek advice of the OAG to see in what court this letter must be issued,” said the official.
Internationally Bhutan is neither a member of the Hague Evidence Convention or the Hague Service Convention on sharing evidences and information between courts without having to go through diplomatic channels.
According to a legal expert the response of the Bhutan government to the Letter Rogatory will ordinarily be based on bilateral understanding and cooperation and also reciprocity. The legal expert said that the decision ultimately with lie with the government on the extent of the cooperation and the court would only follow from there.
However, in the past the Ministry of Finance has already shared information with India through diplomatic channels on the lottery scam.
The legal expert said that since it was a High Court that had sent the request the appropriate authority would be the High Court in Bhutan.
The finance secretary Lam Dorji said, “We will have to wait and see. The lottery office was closed in 2011 but we have shared some information in the past.”
The Bhutan Lottery scam was first brought to light by the Media in 2010.
Later a special RAA report on the Bhutan lottery operations confirmed many of the media reports on the Bhutan Lottery scam.
The report confirmed irregularities in the operation of Bhutan Lottery worth Nu 263.6bn a year in 2007 alone, printing in illegal presses, billions in potential revenue lost by Bhutan, reduction of annual fee from 470 mn to 220 mn on false grounds, non printing of prize money, changing the lottery agreement illegally by the current government to favor Martin and other illegalities.
The report also pointed out cases of unauthorized payments to Bhutan lottery directorate staff, illegal transfer of company ownership, under-reporting of actual value of Bhutan lottery by lottery officials etc.
The audit report was however not shared with anyone except the Prime Minister, Finance Minister and the Finance Secretary.
ACC was not provided with a copy and copies were denied to the National Council and opposition party among others.
Minjur Dorji & Puran Gurung