Thimphu District Court acquits Anim Damchoe in Buddha Dordenma Project

The Thimphu District Court has acquitted Damchoe Choden aka Anim Damchoe of the criminal charges against her on the Buddha Dordenma Project in 2019.

In 2019, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) investigation of the Buddha Dordenma Project found that Lam Tshering Wangdi and Anim Damcho could not account or explain the utilization of Nu 340.399 million (mn) from the Buddha Dordenma Image Foundation (BDIF) fund.

The Office of Attorney General (OAG) had charged her for criminal misappropriation of property and possession of unexplained properties. However, the court acquitted all the charges against her, given lack of evidences to prove that the defendant Anim Damchoe dishonesty converted other’s property to her name.

As per the judgment, though the Buddha Dordenma Project was a private project of Lam Tshering Wangdi, the government had provided infrastructure facilities, like roads, electricity and water. Moreover, the government had waived off the taxes for the international doners during their visit to Bhutan.

The judgment further stated that there are no evidences indicating that the government, in any way, provided any financial support. As per the Lam’s statement to the court, he shared that the defendant had not done anything against his order. In addition, the international doners did not have any complaints against her alleging such offences.

The defendant was only administering the project, and the main administrator of the fund was Lam Tshering Wangdi, the judgment added, which is why she was not found guilty, the court ruled.

The claim made by OAG, on the defendant having to reinstitute Nu 60 mn to the project, were dismissed by the court. The judgment ordered the ACC is to return the defendant’s vehicle, seized by ACC since July 2018.

As a compensation, the court ordered ACC to pay Nu 30,000 per month, which amounts to Nu 1.5 mn in total to the defendant for damages suffered due to wrongful seizure until the date of judgment. It has to be returned within 11 days from the date of judgment.

The court further ordered the defendant to return the Alto car to the project and Fortuner car to Lam Tshering Wangdi within 11 days from the judgment.

The charges on the possession of unexplained properties by the defendant, the court has dismissed the charges stating that the defendant is not a serving or former public servant, and also the project was not a Civil Society Organization.

Further, the court ordered ACC to revoke its order to freeze the defendant’s properties and bank account, which has a total amount of Nu 9.9 mn. ACC also has to handover the seized properties like vehicles, houses and lands to the defendant within 11 days from the judgment.

Background

In 2019, the ACC investigation found that Lam Tshering Wangdi and Anim Damcho acquired and registered several high value properties either for themselves or in their immediate relatives’ names, and alleged that they indeed used project funds in acquiring most of these personal properties. These properties included land, buildings, vehicles and business ventures.

ACC recovered Nu 163.197 mn of immovable assets, like buildings and land and Nu 9.89 mn worth of moveable assets, like vehicles. ACC has also found foreign bank accounts, which it has informed the RMA to deal with.

ACC charged Lam Tshering Wangdi with 108 counts of embezzlement under the Penal Code of Bhutan, and 27 counts of embezzlement under the ACB Act.

Anim Damcho Choden faced 89 counts of aiding and abetting, 23 counts of participation in an offence, 1 count of accomplice, 2 counts of money laundering and eight counts of embezzlement.

The ACC conducted its investigation based on the complaint that Anim Damcho Choden (had amassed huge wealth through misappropriation of Buddha Dordenma Image Foundation (BDIF) fund.

Meanwhile, OAG has appealed to the High Court.

There is a separate tax evasion case in the High Court against Anim Damcho and her nephew.

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