The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) has said that it would go by the Anti Corruption Commission’s (ACC) decision on the issue of appealing the Lhakhang Karpo case to the High Court.
Attorney General (AG) Shera Lhendup said, “As justice should not only be done but must seen to have been done, the OAG has decided to defer the appeal matter on the Lhakhang Karpo case to the ACC which can take the final decision.”
The AG said that the OAG’s office had already met the ACC and informed them that the OAG would go by the decision of the ACC on the issue of appeal. The ACC has time until 6th July to ask the OAG to appeal as the last day to file an appeal is on 7th July.
The AG said that though the OAG had formed its own legal opinion after studying the verdict, the OAG would defer to the ACC.
The AG said that normally in other normal cases the OAG would not extend such an extraordinary exception to ACC, but it was forced to do so given the high profile and political nature of the case.
The AG said that ACC would be the right body to take the decision as it was more neutral. He pointed out that given the fact that the AG is recommended and appointed by the government any decision by the OAG could be interpreted wrongly in this case which involves a cabinet minister of the government.
According to an OAG lawyer the OAG’s legal view is that initially both the OAG and ACC had a watertight case but the surfacing of a previously unknown document from the project manager’s side turned the whole case on its head. Appeal can only be done successfully if some procurement law could be used against the document but no such law could be found to countermand the document.
The main part of the ACC’s case against the Foreign Minister was that he had taken a unilateral decision on awarding a timber sawing bid to L.D Sawmill without informing the tender committee.
The main evidence with both ACC and OAG was a signed minute of meeting where the Dzongda had noted the decision to retender as the initial bid of L.D Sawmill, though being lowest of seven bidders, was considered too high and around 100 percent above the market rate.
However, in a major surprise to both ACC and OAG the project manager, Wangchuk Tshering, while defending his own case, submitted another signed minutes of the meeting which showed a later meeting where there was another revaluation and the bid was given to L.D Sawmill by the committee.
OAG in their counter submissions had questioned the legality of the document. OAG, in their attempt to check the validity of the document, also checked the dispatch file of the Lhakhang Karpo project but found that such a document had been registered and dispatched on that date.
This document and the testimonies of the eight of the 11 committee members who signed the document was the main reason why the Haa Dzongkhag court acquitted the Foreign Minister and also the Project Manager.
The second charge against the Foreign Minister was on using the Dzongkhag DCM truck to transfer some of his private timber that he procured in Haa to his house construction site in Thimphu.
The verdict here dismissed the charge of embezzlement of public property as it said that the defendant had used the DCM truck as per the Finance Ministry’s 13th December 2000 circular which allowed civil servants to use pool vehicles under pressing and emergency personal needs. The court also asked the minister to refund Nu 4,166 for not being able to produce the receipt for that amount. The verdict said that the former Dzongda had used around Nu 19,680 worth of fuel in eight trips but since he could produce receipts for Nu 15,514 he was asked to refund the rest.
Of the eight accused in the Lhakhang Karpo, five have been convicted with various charges. The five are Lapon Lhab Dorji, Druk Leading Enterprise’s owner, Pema Wangchen, Nima (son of Pema Tshongkhag proprietor), Yangdon Lhamo a private business woman, and project engineer Tashi Gyeltshen. All of them have the option to pay thrimthue in lieu of prison term.
The three acquitted are the Foreign Minister, the Project Manager and a contractor, Tshewang Rinzin, who supplied sand to the project. The court also said that L.D Sawmill does not have to pay back around Nu 1.4 mn for winning the timber sawing contract.