Why the High Court convicted Anim Damchoe

Anim Damchoe has further appealed to the Supreme Court

The High Court convicted Damchoe Choden aka Anim Damchoe to nine years in prison for misappropriation of funds and possession of unexplained wealth. The High Court judgment was passed on 16 May 2023, which has fully reversed the previous judgment of the District Court.

Anim Damchoe was charged with criminal misappropriation of properties under the Penal Code of Bhutan 2004 and possession of unexplained wealth under the Anti-Corruption Act 2011.

The High Court has sentenced defendant Anim Damchoe to 8 years to prison for misappropriating Nu 57.9 mn from the project’s fund. In addition, the defendant was also sentenced 1 year to prison for possession of unexplained wealth.

From the date of judgment, the defendant was given one-year time to restitute the misappropriated amount of Nu 57.9 mn.

As per the judgment, the Buddha Dordenma Construction Project, which was initiated by Lam Tshering Wangdi, was not a private venture but a government project. The state invested in the project through land, water facility, road connectivity, electricity facility, and waiver of SDF.

The judgment further stated that the existence of a 9-member Advisory Committee, including former Home Minister Jigme Y. Thinley and other cabinet ministers, confirmed the government’s involvement in the project.

Anim Damchoe was found guilty of possessing unexplained wealth as she acquired various properties without proving their lawful means of acquisition. G+1 House at Zilukha in Thimphu, land measuring 64.5 decimals at Guma in Punakha, land meaning 9502 square feet near the Swimming Pool area in Thimphu, two Hiace Buses, and Lhai Meto Import and Export and Lhai Meto Tour and Trek.

The OAG provided evidences to the court that the defendant unlawfully withdrew and misappropriated a total amount of Nu 18.9 million (mn) from the project’s bank account. The defendant was also found guilty of misappropriating funds for her relatives and withdrew Nu 4.1 mn. She also misappropriated Nu 29 mn from BNB’s staff.

The Judgment further stated that the High Court ordered the sale of misappropriated properties through public auction, with the proceeds to be deposited into the Buddha Dordenma Project Account.

The judgment further directed the Government and Zhung Dratshang to continue the construction of the Buddha Dordenma Project.

The same High Court in March 2023 had also convicted Anim Damchoe to 9 years for tax evasion and asked her to restitute Nu 63 mn to the government. She had evaded tax from 2010 to 2017.

District Court

Earlier, Anim Damchoe was acquitted by the Thimphu District Court of criminal charges on the Buddha Dordenma Project in 2019.

The District Court on the charges of criminal misappropriation of property, determined that the project funds belonged to Lam and the foreign sponsors. The district court found no evidence that the government provided direct financial support for the project.

It said the OAG failed to present evidence that the defendant dishonestly misappropriated or converted properties, except for allegations of the defendant’s involvement. Lam testified that the defendant acted in accordance with his instructions, and that he had no reason to suspect her involvement in such offenses.

Additionally, no sponsor raised any complaints against the defendant. The court dismissed the OAG’s request for the defendant to reimburse Nu 60.1 mn to the project, as per the District Court’s judgment.

The district court also did not hold her guilty of unexplained wealth charges under section 60(1) of the ACC Act that applies to public servants and CSOs as it said it could not be proven she used the project funds.

The court also addressed the seizure of the Prado by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) whereby the court determined that it was not established to be the proceeds of a corruption offense. Therefore, the ACC was ordered to return the vehicle to the defendant and compensate her with a total amount of Nu 1.5 mn (Nu 30,000 per month).

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