Responding to allegations that the prosecution of Chang Ugyen was a case of political vendetta, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) said it was not the case.
The OAG in a statement said that due legal process and procedure was followed in the case. The office clarified that the recommendation to prosecute the case had not come from the cabinet but from the National Land Commission (NLC) itself via a letter sent from the Commission on 1st January 2014 to the Cabinet Secretariat.
The OAG said that NLC letter written in Dzongkha had mentioned tampering of thram records and recommended legal prosecution.
The OAG said based on the letter and recommendation from NLC, the Cabinet forwarded the NLC letter to the OAG for further action on 20th January 2014.
The OAG also itself did not immediately decide to prosecute the case, but studied the case and the findings and evidences of the NLC in detail before finally registering a case against Chang Ugyen and Sonam Norbu on 15th August 2014.
Chang Ugyen is a former Gup, former Royal Advisory Councilor and was also the former DPT Vice President. Sonam Norbu is the former Land record officer who had the Thimphu region’s thram under his charge at the time.
According to OAG the case against Chang Ugyen is on two counts one of which is resorting to forgery to convert a 2 decimal plot in Omkha into a 3.02 acres land and also registering in his name a seven acre plot in Lubding which was never owned by him. The OAG is applying the same charges against Chang Ugyen separately for both cases.
In the case of Sonam Norbu the OAG has charged him with forging documents to help make the changes in Chang Ugyens favor. The OAG also charged Sonam Norbu of accepting a three care sokshing land from Chang Ugyen.
According to the OAG and court proceeding both of the above are being charged with violating the Land Act 1979 on sections Ka 1.1, Ka 1.2 and Ka 1.3 all of which have to do with the process of rightfully registering a thram. Both are also being charged with violating the 1980 Kasho of His Majesty the Fourth King who had commanded that only His Majesty the King can grant kidu land.
The OAG said that the penalty for violating the above two falls in Section NA 1.2 which says, “No person shall forge documents and seals or impersonate another to defraud others or otherwise practice deceit for personal gain or for other purposes.”
If found guilty the accused could face a sentence ranging from a minimum of six months to a maximum of six years.
Chang Ugyen’s case is part of a larger High Level Committee report of 2003 on excess land registration in Thimphu.
The High Level Committee was instituted by the government in 2001 to study the issue, and after a detailed investigation the report was issued in 2003 where 45 prominent cases came up aside other types of cases.
A lot of land was recovered, thrams got deleted, action was taken against some officials and some anomalies were corrected.
The government at the time under a fixed period of time had allowed people to give back or replace the excess land from other Dzongkhags.
The difference being that Chang Ugyen refused to replace land and went to court against the government.
Chang Ugyen had already sold 13 decimals of his 3.02 acres to two buyers and he had sold the seven acre Lubding plot to around five buyers.
The High Court verdict in 2008 asked Chang Ugyen to reinstate the land while all the buyers were treated as innocent bystanders establishing a legal precedent of its own kind.
Chang Ugyen then appealed to the National Land Commission which sat on the case until July 2012 when the NLC citing the court judgment asked Chang Ugyen to replace all the land from any of the Four Dzongkhags of Thimphu, Paro, Punakha and Chukha.
The government took over Omkha land of 3.02 acres minus the 13 decimals he sold but was supposed to replace. In a relief the five buyers of Chang Ugyen’s seven acre plot in Lubding offered to replace the land in his stead.
However, though the civil part of the case was over, Chang Ugyen by not accepting the 2003 opportunity of replacing land and by going to court against the government had opened up a Pandora ’s Box of legal issues.
The OAG said that the court at the time ruled that though the civil part of the case of adjudicated on it was unable to adjudicate on the criminal aspect as no charges had been filed on the issue. According to the OAG the then verdict had said that the court can adjudicate if separate criminal charges are filed.
According to the OAG the NLC did its own enquiry after the civil part was over and finding forgery and tampering of records had decided to forward the case for criminal prosecution against Chang Ugyen and Sonam Norbu.
In their arguments in court both Chang Ugyen and Sonam Norbu have claimed their innocence.
Chang Ugyen has said that he had inherited land from his family and he had idea on how the holdings had increased. He also said that all the necessary replacement land had also all been given back to the government. In court Chang Ugyen also denied that any of the legal provision being quoted by the OAG was applicable to him.
Sonam Norbu also maintained his innocence denying any wrong doing.
In fact both Chang Ugyen and Sonam Norbu apart from defending themselves also went on the offensive asking the OAG to prove beyond doubt that it was they who colluded and manipulated the thrams or instead face defamation charges.
An OAG lawyer told this paper that the defamation charge is not relevant as the changed thrams and the excess land registered illegally were in the possession of the accused.
The case against both the accused was registered on 15th August 2014 and joint preliminary hearings were done on 25th August. Sonam Norbu replied against the charges on 28th August with the OAG countering on 10th September. Sonam Norbu again made his statements and arguments on 17th September. The OAG will be making further submissions on 2nd October against Sonam Norbu.
In the case of Chang Ugyen he made his arguments on 15th September and the OAG will be doing a rebuttal on the 30th September.
Meanwhile Chang Ugyen’s daughter, who is a lawyer in a government ministry, was not allowed by the High Court to represent her father.