Case 04/2015 – Fraud in land substitution at Taktse, Trongsa involving former Dzongdag

The ACC, upon receiving complaint against former Trongsa Dzongdag Mr. Lhab Dorji, his wife Mrs Karma Tshetim Dolma, former Gup Tenzin and surveyor Mr. Narayan Dangal, investigated the case and referred it to the OAG on 17 July 2015 for prosecution. The OAG informed ACC of its decision to drop the case on 30 December 2016. ACC decided to pursue the matter and filed the case before the Dzongkhag Court, Trongsa on 15 February 2017.

The investigation determined that Mr. Lhab Dorji while working as Trongsa Dzongdag between 2003 to 2006, fraudulently obtained and registered in his wife’s name, more than 4 acres of State land located opposite the Trongsa Dzong. Mrs. Karma Tshetim Dolma, was then working as Principal of Sherubling Higher Secondary School. The investigation determined that the fraud was conspired during the process of acquiring land at Taktse from two villages under Dragteng Gewog for establishment of the Institute of Language and Cultural Studies (ILCS). He had seized the opportunity in the process of his official work with land substitution cases with the public.

The modus operandi entailed first getting legal Thram ownership of someone’s land (that had already been enlisted for acquisition) into his wife’s name. After the ownership had been transferred through the Court and the land record authority, he used his position as Dzondag to process for land substitution from another Gewog i.e. Nubi Gewog, at the location where they later built a tourist resort. In doing so, he engaged Drakteng Gup Tenzin who in turn involved his Tshogpa (deceased) to fabricate land sale agreements and Court documents purporting to have bought land from three different individuals. Two were sisters (one married to former Drangpon Mr. Ugyen Tenzin) and their land acquired by the government had already been substituted from Gelephu under Kasho of His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo. The former Trongsa Dzongda already had knowledge about theKasho and land substitution in Gelephu. During the transfer process in the Court, the former Drangpon under persuasion of Gup Tenzin had arranged a forged Power of Attorney for the purpose of effecting the transfer of his wife’s land despite his clear knowledge about the Gelephu land substitution.

Further, the former Dzongda processed for transfer of two more plots measuring 2.18 acres of land belonging to the complainant’s late mother (also in the government’s acquisition list) by fabricating a sale deed. Prior to initiating theCourt process, the former Dzongda, using his subordinate Land Record Assistant Sangay (deceased), fraudulently altered the acreage in the Thram record and made the land record authority effect the changes. Owing to time pressure due to his transfer out of the Trongsa Dzongkhag, the former Dzongda had attempted to circumvent legal procedure and obtain approval for substitute land from the land authority claiming that his wife had bought land from the complainant when thefact was that he had not even registered the application to the Court. Around the time when the Trongsa court issued the verdict, the land owner was deceitfully paid Nu. 45,000/= in a restaurant and given to believe that she was being paid government compensation. The investigation found that the former Dzongdag had unduly delayed the land substitution process to accommodate his vested interest i.e. to complete legal and administrative formalities of getting the Thram registration into his wife’s name and seeking approval for substitution from another location. However, he failed to materialise this due to the effect of the new Land Act that came into force from 2007, which restricted land substitution from different gewogs or Dzongkhags. Then in 2011 during the National Cadastral Resurvey Programme (NCRP), his wife, in collusion with the surveyor Mr. Kezang Nima, enlisted in the Kidu list as a Genuine Y Plot and eventually regularised her Thram.

As opposed to the perception being wrongly propagated in public forum that ACC’s freezing had led to the deterioration of the property, the freeze order only restrained the defendant from transferring the land in question but did not stop or require business operations to be stalled whatsoever and was accordingly conveyed in writing to Mrs. Karma Tshetim Dolma by ACC. Similarly, the Trongsa Court had also ordered the appellant to operate the resort if she wanted to if she sowished. However, Mrs. Karma Tshetim Dolma had chosen not to continue the business operations.

In what can be described as the darkest moment in the history of ACC, the defendant Lhab Dorji, on 29 April 2022, attacked an ACC officer with a knife, inside the Supreme Court after the guilty verdict was pronounced. Such a brazen,callous and despicable act of aggression, in the Supreme Court, was an attack not on an individual but to the institution and public service in general.

The delusional allegation that evidence was hidden with the purpose of implicating the defendant Lhab Dorji is totally baseless. There is no conceivable ground or reason for ACC or any individual officer to hide any evidence or harbour any malicious intent. The fact that such allegations were not substantiated, hence not considered by any of the Courts during the trial and appeal process over the last five years, only stands to prove that such allegations were without merit. The outcome is solely driven by evidence and not by any personal biases. For the record, the complaint was received by ACC in 2013 and investigations were initiated by the first Commission. The second Commission completed the investigations and initiated the prosecution and the conclusion of the adjudication process happened during the current (third) Commission’s term.

From the time a complaint or a case is first registered to its final disposition, the existing procedures governing the complaint and investigation management are robust and stringent enough to safeguard from individual discretion. An individual officer has neither interest nor opportunity to gain or lose from a case assigned to him/her other than performing their duties diligently and professionally as required of them.

The charges and the final decisions are presented in Tables A and below. 

Table A: Charges in the Trongsa Land Case

Sl. No.NameCharges
1Mr. Lhab DorjiTotal eight counts of criminal charges including four counts of forgery, three counts of official misconduct and one count of execution of document by deception
2Mrs. Karma Tshetim DolmaTotal nine counts of criminal charges including four counts of forgery, four counts of criminal solicitation and one count of offence related to witness
3Mr. TenzinTotal eight counts of criminal charges including five counts of forgery and three counts of deceptive practices
4Mr. Narayan DangalTotal two counts of criminal charges including one count of aiding and abetting and one count of official misconduct
5Mr. Ugyen TenzinOne counts of forgery
6Mr. PhuntshoTwo counts of forgery
7Mr. Kezang NimaOne count of official misconduct
8Mr. Tashi PeldenOne count of official misconduct
9Mr. WangchuklaOne count of official misconduct
10Mr. KinleylaOne count of official misconduct

The case came to a final closure with the Supreme Court decision of 29 April 2022.

Table B: Judgment on Trongsa Land Case

Sl. No.NameTrongsa CourtHigh Court (Bench II)Supreme Court
1Mr. Lhab DorjiConvicted for five years of non-compoundable imprisonmentUpheldUpheld
2Mrs. Karma Tshetim DolmaConvicted for six years of non-compoundable imprisonmentUpheldUpheld
3Mr. TenzinConvicted for six years of non-compoundable imprisonmentUpheldUpheld
4Mr. Narayan DangalConvicted for one and half years of non-compoundable imprisonmentUpheld the sentencing term but made it compoundable i.e., can pay Thrimthue in lieu of imprisonmentUpheld
5Mr. Ugyen TenzinConvicted for one and half years of non-compoundable imprisonmentUpheld the sentencing term but made it compoundable i.e., can pay Thrimthue in lieu of imprisonmentNo appeal
6Mr. PhuntshoConvicted for one and half years of non-compoundable imprisonmentUpheld the sentencing term but made it compoundable i.e, can pay Thrimthue in lieu of imprisonmentNo appeal
7Mr. Kezang NimaConvicted for one year of compoundable imprisonmentNo appealNo appeal
8Mr. Tashi PeldenAcquitted for becoming State approverNo appealNo appeal
9Mr. WangchuklaAcquitted for becoming State approverNo appealNo appeal
10Mr. KinelylaAcquitted for becoming State approverNo appealNo appeal

The judgment is currently under enforcement. With regard to the structure built on the impugned land, the Commission, on 13 June 2022, sought the Government’s decision and accordingly, the Cabinet had directed the Ministry of Finance toinitiate the acquisition process. As regards land restitution, the Thram has been referred for de-registering from the individual’s name to the State.

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