Late last year, Upel Dakini Dorji, the daughter of former Trongsa Dzongda Lhab Dorji, put up a viral video on faceboook and some documents alleging that her parents did not get a fair trial.
The information presented by Upel in the video, its emotional delivery and the allegation that her parents were fighting against ‘powerful’ forces gained immediate traction with netizens.
From that moment on, the Trongsa Land Scam built on witnesses, evidences and years of investigation came under question and a notion spread online that Lhab Dorji and his wife are somehow innocent.
Apart from this, Lhab Dorji and his wife’s defence team also alleged in the Supreme Court that they did not get a fair trail.
However, a review of the evidences around the case tell a very different story.
How the case came to light?
The case first came to light in the 2010 and 2011 National Cadastral Resurvey (NCRP) when an uneducated local woman called Gyalmo wanted the NCRP to survey her late mother Lhaden’s land, but the NCRP informed her that what was once her mother’s land now belonged to Lhab Dorji’s wife Karma Tshetim Dolma.
This came as a shock to Gylamo who still remembered that while a part of her late mother Lhaden’s land was taken for the Institute of Language and Cultural Studies (ILCS) for which Gyalmo received compensation from the Dzongda and his wife at a hotel as state compensation, she still had some land left.
What the illiterate Gylamo did not know was that Lhab Dorji and his wife Karma Tshetim along co-conspirators Gup Tenzin and late Tshogpa Rinchen had conspired to draw up a fake sale deed well after late Lhaden was dead showing that Lhaden had sold the land to Karma Tshetim. In the name of giving Gyalmo government compensation for a part of her late mother’s land she was made to sign the false sale deed on her mother’s name saying her late mother sold her entire land to Karma Tshetim Dolma. She had put her thumbprint on it not really knowing what she was signing.
She filed a case in the Trongsa District Court but the court there threw her case out saying there is a sale deed with a thumbprint.
She then filed a complaint with the ACC which led to the revealing of the entire Trongsa Land Scam which involved 3 land scams in total involving around six acres of government and private land, illegally obtained by Karma Tshetim with active help from her husband Lhab Dorji and those working under him.
The sale deed was a fake as the late Lhaden was already dead when it was drawn up, one supposed witness in the deed was not even there and his thumbprint was forged by Gup Tenzin who put his own thumbprint as per the forensic report of the RBP.
Similarly, the former Trongsa Dzongda and his wife made other fake sale deeds to buy up government land of 2.77 acres and later also created an additional plot of 1.93 acres illegally.
First allegation of ‘sellers’ not being punished
Coming back to the video, Upel Dakini alleged that people who bought the lands (her parents) were punished but the ‘sellers’ were not punished.
This same submission was put up in the court, but the ACC replied asking who is the ‘seller.’ ACC posed this question as there was no real seller as the sale deeds were all fake.
In the first case above it was established that Late Lhaden never sold her land and the sale deed was fake.
Upel Dakini’s reference is to the two sale deeds of the sisters Sonam Choden and Yangchen ‘selling’ 2.77 acres or four plots to Karma Tshetim.
The two sisters on the request of their late father Kinzang Dorji had already received land compensation for the above four plots and another four plots in Trongsa (total 8 plots) in the form of 5 acres in Gelephu issued through a Royal Kasho from His Majesty The Fourth King, and so the Department of Survey and Land Records (DSLR) had deleted the 8 plots from the main Chhagzhag Thram, and Lhab Dorji had been directed to delete these plots from the Kappa form in Trongsa, but he did not do so.
Instead, the Dzongda saw an opportunity to enrich himself, and so instead of deleting the Thrams he got the four plots, which are actually government land, transferred to his wife with Gup Tenzin’s help. Karma Tshetim with Gup Tenzin’s help executed two fake sale deeds to show Sonam Choden and Yangchen sold four plots measuring 2.77 acres to Karma Tshetim.
However, there was no seller as the both the sisters were not even aware. In the fake sale deed of Sonam Choden the thumbprint of Sonam Choden and witness Ngote belonged to Gup Tenzin as per the RBP forensic report (see sale deed image).
In the fake sale deed of Yangchen the signature of her late father Kinzang Dorji had been forged against her name. Gup Tenzin admitted to the ACC that the signature had been forged.
Based on these fake sale deeds the Trongsa Dzongkhag court transferred the 2.77 acres or four plots to Karma Tshetim in the absence of the two sisters.
Second allegation around Thram 514
The next big allegation by Upel is that the seller of the lands is former high court registrar Ugyen Tenzin (husband of Yangchen) and she accuses him of having created 8 fake plots under Thram number 514 without any legal procedure. She then says he then went to His Majesty The Fourth King’s Office and misled His Majesty three times and secured 5 acres of land in Gelephu.
She then says Ugyen Tenzin sold 4 of the plots to her mother Karma Tshetim and Upel claims her mother has the sale deeds and the Trongsa Court Judgment.
Upel alleges that the illegal plot of 514 is being considered as legal by ACC and what her mother bought legally is considered illegal for which her mother faces four charges. She also says that the other four plots are still with the family members of Ugyen Tenzin.
There are two grains of truth in the above allegations. The first is that a day after the Trongsa court transferred the 4 plots to Karma Tshetim, Ugyen Tenzin sent a fraudulent power of attorney in his wife Yangchen’s name from his office fax without her knowledge.
The second is that the remaining four plots was still retained by the descendants of Sonam Choden and Yangchen.
At the same time, it is not true that Ugyen Tenzin got away as the ACC charged Ugyen Tenzin for forgery for the fake power of attorney for which he was even convicted. Ugyen Tenzin tried to point out he had no gain from that fake power of attorney, but ACC pointed to the other four plots retained by his family. In the Trongsa Court ACC moved to also restitute these four plots, however, the Trongsa court said since it was a different case, ACC has to conduct an investigation and then file a case to restitute these plots. The ACC has said it will start that process soon.
However, Upel gets everything else wrong.
The 8 plots were originally owned by Yangchen and Sonam’s father the late Kinzang Dorji who in 25 April 2000 requested His Majesty The Fourth King for some land replacement in Thimphu.
In March 2002 Lhab Dorji became the Trongsa Dzongda and in July 2002 constituted the Land Acquisition Committee for the ILCS and in December 2002 his committee submitted a list of 23 people who wanted cash compensation and this included Sonam Choden, Yangchen and Late Lhaden.
In 4 April 2003 His Majesty The Fourth King issued a Royal Kasho to Sarpang Dzongkhag granting 5 acres of land at Gelephu as substitute for the 8 plots to be acquired from Sonam Choden and Yangchen for ILCS.
After identifying the land, the Sarpang Dzongkhag communicated this to the DSLR in June 2003 for the Thram formalities.
The DSLR created Thram number 514 for the Department of Education where the 8 plots of the two sisters were transferred. The DSLR then deleted these eight plots furnished by Ugyen Tenzin from the two sisters name in the Chhagzhag Thram.
The DSLR then on 12 August 2003 wrote to the Sarpang Dzongkhag with copy to Dzongda Lhab Dorji and Drakten Gup on creation of Thram 514 for the Department of Education and Thram 1253 in Gelephu in the name of the late Kinzang Dorji. The letter also asked the Trongsa Dzongda and the Gup for the old 8 plots to be deleted in the Dzongkhag and Gewog records.
The Office of the Attorney General in 2015 under then Attorney General Shera Lhendup had announced that the main evidence of Lhab Dorji’s innocence was that he never was sent the letter by DSLR to delete the 8 plots which is why his wife bought it later.
However, here ACC not only has the original letter sent to Lhab Dorji by DSLR asking for the 8 plots to be deleted but the letter (see image on pg 1) also has a remark by Lhab Dorji with his signature assigning the letter to the Land Record Officer.
However, Lhab Dorji ensured that the 8 plots were not deleted and so the Blue Thrams based on the undeleted Kappa was issued in 2004 where the plots were still retained. It was from there that Lhab Dorji and his wife and others moved to process the fake sale deeds to take over 4 of the plots coming to 2.77 acre as pointed out above.
The defence also tried to undermine Thram 514 saying that the ILCS Thram was 599 and a thram 514 was issued to a certain Kinzang Dema. However, here the ACC said the Thram 514 created in 2003 and the one created in 2004 for Kinzang Dema were different ones and in fact the Thram of Kinzang Dema was to update her old Thram of 334 maintained under the 1980 register.
After getting the transfer of the 2.77 acres done Lhab Dorji came across an unexpected problem when the DSLR wanted clarity on one of the four plots (plot DRAG 110) belonging to Yangchen before processing it. Knowing that the entire transfer would have to be redone if any issues were detected he instead lied to the DSLR and said that a separate plot 110 of late Aum Lhaden was under measured at only 51 decimals when it should be plot 105 at 1.10 acres.
This plot 105 was actually government land but Lhab Dorji got it registered without a survey and using only a map.
His wife then executed the fake sale deed mentioned above to take over this plot 105 created by Lhab Dorji in late Lhaden’s name and also the rest of late Lhaden’s own land by fooling her illiterate daughter Gyalmo and also resorting to forgery.
Lhab Dorji then processed land replacement for the 2.77 acres his wife falsified from Yangchen and Sonam and the 2.18 acres from late Lhaden.
The Ministry of Agriculture in July 2006 approved replacement for the 2.77 acres as the court process had been done, but not for the 2.18 acres which was still being processed in court. From 2007 the Land Act came into place and Lhab Dorji’s plan to get satshab for the 2.18 acres in Thumang was not possible as the Act banned land replacement in another gewog.
This was when Dzongkhag surveyor Narayan Dangal under the instruction of the late Sangay Younten created an entirely new plot number 81 of 1.933 acres right next to the 2.77 acres’ land replacement at Thumang or viewpoint where Lhab Dorji built his resort.
This 1.933 acres was measured with the expectation that Lhab Dorji would be able to secure land replacement for the 2.18 acres which did not happen but even then this additional land was kept enabling Lhab Dorji to get 4.76 acres (2.77 + 1.933) at viewpoint.
One allegation of there not being a fair trail was a certain letter from the National Land Commission (NLC) being hidden, however, the letter was reflected in the judgment and was inconsequential to the case.
At the high court Lhab Dorji’s lawyer presented a forensic report conducted by them from a private firm in India to try and prove that late Kinzang Dorji’s signature in Yangchen’s sale of deed was real.
However, both the High Court and Supreme Court did not accept this as such reports can only be ordered through the court, it was not presented in the Dzongkhag court and the report in three pages had Dzongkha Unicode text which cannot be known to an Indian person.
The defence alleged that ACC was given repeated opportunities to present evidence, but the ACC said it was in line with court procedure and both sides got the same chance.
The defence claimed that the Trongsa Court allowed the ACC to make a presentation in absence of the appellants ,but ACC said a power point presentation was made to show there is sufficient legal grounds to admit the case.
The defence also claimed that several officers led by the Commissioner came to register the case and this pressured the court, but here the ACC said there is no reason for the Trongsa court to succumb to the presence of 4 officers and a Commissioner.
The defence also alleged the Trongsa Court declined to summon witnesses despite their request. Here the ACC said the court has the discretion to hear the witness only if it is necessary and and the direct witness had already been heard.