Land scam of former Trongsa Dzongda Lhab Dorji and wife forwarded by ACC to OAG

Dzongda’s wife facilitated by Dzongda bought land from private landowners at government rates under guise of government land acquisition

After around two years of investigation the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) recently forwarded a land scam case against the former Trongsa Dzongda Lhab Dorji and his wife Karma Tshetim Dolma to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) for prosecution.

The land scam involves the illegal acquisition of 4.73 acres of land at Thumgang or ‘view point’ in Trongsa by Karam Tshetim Dolma and Lhab Dorji in his capacity as Trongsa Dzongda. They then proceeded to build a Nu 168.37 mn Raven resort on it.

It also involves the illegal acquisition of another 2.18 acres of land in Drakteng Gewog under Trongsa Dzongkhag.

The scam essentially was that the former Trongsa Dzongda in the name of acquiring land at government rates of Nu 200 per decimal for the Institute of Languages and Cultural Studies (ILCS) facilitated his wife to buy land at the same government rate from private landowners who thought their land was being acquired by the government.

In a blatant move the signatures, thumb impressions and even witnesses were forged to transfer the land from private landowners to the former Dzongda’s wife with the help of the Gup and others.

The scam was so well coordinated that even the Trongsa Dzongkhag court allowed for the transfer of the land even though the private landowners were neither present nor had any idea of what was happening to their land.

The end result was that Karam Tshetim could buy land at government land acquisition rates, claim that the same land had been acquired by ILCS and then apply for land substitution. Then again with the help of her husband the Dzongda who also headed Land Acquisition Committee she got substitute land in an even more lucrative and well located area where the resort is located.

Meanwhile the ACC says that Lhab Dorji delayed the compensation payment and land substitution process by two years to allow his wife to complete her land transaction process.

The scam did not end there and involved creating a fictional plot on the site of the resort to increase the size of the resort area.

Though the beneficiaries of the scam are Lhab Dorji and his wife, others who helped in the process are former Drakteng Gup Tenzin, former Nubi Gup Phuntsho, former Drangpon Ugyen Tenzin, and former survey field assistant Kelzang Nima.  Lhab Dorji is currently the President of the autonomous Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital and prior to that he served as the Thimphu and Mongar Dzongda.

Background

The issue all started when the Ministry of Education first in 1997 and later the Royal University of Bhutan planned to relocated the ILCS in Semtokha, Thimphu to Drakteng Gewog in Trongsa.

An eleven member Land Acquisition Committee was formed in 2002. The Cabinet approved 43 acres of land to be acquired from 38 local private landowners for the institute. In the meantime Lhab Dorji was appointed as the Trongsa Dzongda in 2002 and he was there till 2006 during which time the scam occurred. As Dzongda he also became the Land Acquisition Committee head.

The Trongsa Dzongda in 20th December 2002 forwarded a list of 23 households to the Home Ministry who were to be given cash compensation.

 2.77 acres of Sonam Choden and Yangchen

The Education ministry in 2003 acquired eight plots in total from two sisters who were Sonam Choden and Yangchen and it was also reflected in the Chazhag Thram of the Ministry.

However, the Dzongda’s wife through a forged sale deed dated 10th February 2005 claimed to have bought three plots from Yangchen and through another similar sale deed dated 17th February 2005 claimed to have bought one plot from Sonam Choden.

This came to a total of 2.77 acres of land and the government compensation rate of Nu 200 per decimal was paid coming to Nu 40,600 for Yangchen and Nu 14,800 for Sonam Choden.

Drakteng Gup Tenzin who later confessed to acting on the advice of the Dzongda forged the approvals of the two sisters by putting his thumbprint against their names and also against a witness called Ngote. This was though Sonam Choden did not use thumbprints and had a signature. He also certified to the Trongsa Dzongkhag court that the land was consensually transacted. A Late Rinchen also claimed to have the power of attorney to represent the two sisters in court on their behalf.

Convinced, the court on 31st April 2005 issued a court verdict legally completing the transfer of land.

As part of the land registration process the Department of Survey and Land Records (DSLR) wrote to the Trongsa Dzongda to confirm the plot number of Yangchen. Despite knowing that the Ministry of Education had already acquired the plot the Dzongda replied back saying the plot number is the same.

Both Sonam Choden and Yangchen denied ever selling land to Karma Tshetim or having signed on any such document. They also denied ever appointing Late Rinchen as their representative. Ngote also denied being the witness in such a deal. In the case of Yangchen ACC found that her husband a former Drangpon Ugyen Tenzin had fabricated her signature to allow Rinchen to have the power of Attorney. ACC found that Yangchen only uses her thumbprint. Yangchen also denied even allowing the power of attorney to Rinchen.

When questioned, by ACC Gup Tenzin admitted to having made the sale deeds and forging the signatures and he said he acted on the instruction of Lhab Dorji.

As soon as the land of the two sisters were registered with Karma Tshetim the Dzongda wrote to the Survey General saying that now only 13 landowners down from the original 23 wanted cash compensation. This meant that the rest would get land compensation. Interesting the names of the two sisters was not put in the list of the 13 getting cash compensation only.

One reason stated for changing the compensation list was that a local meeting saw landowners wanting land compensation. However, in his confession Gup Tenzin denied such a meeting ever took place.

In the meantime despite the money coming in and reminders from the DSLR the Trongsa Dzongda delayed the compensation. Also though the Karma Tshetim’s Thram registration was done by 15th April 2005, Lhab Dorji did not immediately process for substitute land for 2.77 acres. The ACC said that this was because the Dzongda was facilitating his wife to get a separate 2.18 acres plot from Late Aum Lhaden under a similar modus operandi.

On 19th December 2005 Lhab Dorji wrote to the Nubi Gup Phuntsho to identify satshab. The Gup after signing it left it to his gedrung Sonam Rinchen to get the community clearance and he in turn got the clearance by telling people that the Dzongda might support a farm road construction and Lhakhang renovation in return for giving up a Tsamdro area as satshab.

After getting the community and forest clearance the Dzongda wrote to the DSLR requesting to register 2.77 acres and 2.18 acres coming to a total of 4.95 acres as land substitute from Nubi Gewog in favour of Karma Tshitem Dolma. This was even though at the time the 2.18 acres of Late Lhaden discussed below was still yet to be approved by the Trongsa court. Of all the satshab cases this was also the first to be processed by the Dzongda. The ACC found that the community clearance for the 2.18 acres had been forged.

The DSLR registered the 2.77 acres in Nubi Gewog ‘view point’ as satshab in March 2007 as apparently all legal formalities looked complete but the DSLR made no mention of the 2.18 acres.

2.18 acres of Late Lhaden

Karma Tshetim came up with a sale deed dated 23rd November 2005 showing that the Late Lhaden had sold her two plots of 2.18 acres including a plot named Jasar measuring 1.10 acres. Here again Gup Tenzin told the court that the sale was done by consent of both sides and so on 15th May 2006 the Trongsa court issued a legal verdict completing the transfer.

ACC on checking found that the thumbprint of Lhaden was not that of Lhaden but of her illiterate daughter Gyalmo who only signed the document thinking it was part of the government acquisition of land.

Gyalmo told ACC that she was taken by the Late Rinchen to Hotel Shambala where she was paid Nu 45,000 by the Dzongda and his wife. She said the Late Rinchen had said that she was getting government payment as compensation. She said that being illiterate she was made to sign many documents.

In fact only later when Gyalmo learnt of her land being transferred to Karam Tshetim she filed a court case in the Trongsa Dzongkhag in 2011 which she later lost. Also, the Dzongda without the knowledge of Gyalmo had increased her plot size of Jasar from 0.51 decimal to 1.10 acres.

The ACC tracing phone records found that Karma Tshetim had tried to tutor Gup Tenzin to lie about Gyalmo.

Illegal regularization of 1.93 acres

After getting the 2.77 acres land substitution in ‘view point’ under Nubisa Gewog Karma Tshetim increased her landholdings to 4.73 acres by illegally regularizing 1.93 acres of land on 9th December 2010 by asking the survey field assistant Kelzang Nima to do so. She showed the boundaries of her land to him. This was despite being told that satshab land is not eligible to get excess land.

The ACC said that Lhab Dorji used his official position as a Dzongda and Chairman of the Land Acquisition Committee to extend undue advantage to his wife.

Charges

The ACC according to an official has come up with possible charges that can be levied. The former Dzongda will be faced with several counts of forgery, tampering with public record, official misconduct, aiding and abetting and giving false information. His wife also faces several counts of forgery and deception. Similarly others mentioned in the case like Gup Tenzin, Gup Phuntsho and Ugyen Tenzin will face mainly forgery charges. Kelzang Nima will face aiding and abetting and unlawful addition on cadastral record.

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