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BNBL appeals to Supreme Court on auction of building

… involved in controversial case between Sonam Phuntsho and Dr Shacha Wangmo’s family

Legal: Bhutan National Bank Ltd (BNBL) appealed to the Supreme Court’s Justice Tashi Chozom yesterday that it be allowed to auction or be paid for the mortgaged building involved in the controversial case between Sonam Phuntsho and Dr Shacha Wangmo’s family.

Justice Tashi Chozom and Justice Rinzin Penjore issued an order on January 13 asking the Department of National Properties (DNP) to auction nine units of the building as soon as possible.

It is stated that since the parties have not enforced the judgment, the court exercising Article 21 section 10 of the Constitution is ordering DNP to auction the property.

“The Supreme Court and the High Court may issue such declarations, orders, directions or writs as may be appropriate in the circumstances of each case,” the Constitution states.

The Supreme Court’s August 18, 2016 verdict stated that Tandin Bidha, the appellant, had to pay Nu 18 million to Sonam Phuntsho within three months, failing which Sonam Phuntsho will take ownership of nine units or half the building that is jointly owned by Tandin Bidha and one of her daughters, Sonam Wangmo, in Changzamtog.

Sonam Phuntsho would have to pay Sonam Wangmo’s loan and penalties with BNBL as the building was mortgaged with the bank.

The order has caught both BNBL and Dr Shacha Wangmo’s family by surprise.

Both parties were waiting to hear from the court after submitting their statements as asked of them.

The bank approached the court for an update on the transfer of the loan and the nine units to Sonam Phuntsho after the enforcement of the verdict began on November 19, 2016. The three parties were ordered to submit statements on the enforcement of the verdict.

The bank and Dr Shacha Wangmo’s mother, Tandin Bidha submitted that she had surrendered the nine units of the building to the bank and asked that the loans be  transferred to Sonam Phuntsho to enforce the judgment of the court.

Sonam Phuntsho submitted that he only wanted his money (Nu 18 million) and did not want to pay the loan on the units as stated in the verdict.

The order for auction also fixed the reserved price of the auction at Nu 22 million, with each unit priced at least Nu 2.44 million.

The Justices stated that the court will deploy its human resource officer and engineer in all matters related to the auction.

BNBL legal officials and Tandin Bidha said the enforcement of the judgment had begun as opposed to the claim of the Justices. They claimed that they began enforcing the Supreme Court’s verdict as soon as the three months was complete after the August 18, 2016 verdict.

Tandin Bidha signed documents surrendering ownership of the nine units and the loan to BNBL. Bank officials said accordingly they informed Sonam Phuntsho but he did not show up.

“Why the Justices have to do it secretly without even informing the other parties?” Dr Shacha Wangmo said. “How come Sonam Phuntsho knows about the auction in advance and despite being party to the case, we don’t?”

While Sonam Phuntsho withdrew his defamation case against Namgay Zam and Dr Shacha Wangmo, he submitted that the building in contention is soon being auctioned and so he had no reason to continue the case.

Dr Shacha Wangmo said that it gave her the impression that the whole system is working for one person. “One of the Justices told us that Sonam Phuntsho only wants his money and that the court has no other means of giving him the money without the auction,” Dr Shacha Wangmo said.

Her mother, Tandin Bidha said the case was riddled in controversy. “The receipts were declared invalid but the amounts were not deducted from what we owe him. Despite that, respecting the judgment of the Court, we enforced the judgment,” she said. “What are they trying do in secretly auctioning the building without informing me or the bank, is it not like stealing,” she added.

The Justices’ order asking DNP to auction the building has been criticised by members in the legal fraternity as well.

Legal practitioners said by practice, and going by the Moveable and Immoveable Act, the bank should be auctioning the building as it has the right to first charge on the property.

“Doesn’t matter what has happened after that, whether it is put as collateral or whatever, it must be done with the permission of BNBL,” a senior attorney said. The bank, with whose money the building was built, has the right to recover fully their money first, it was added.

The argument is that the two Justices should have considered the Moveable and Immoveable Property Act in this case as is practiced in such cases. “The article in the Constitution that they have quoted is never to be quoted for such petty reasons,” the attorney said. “The order is absolutely misfired,” the senior attorney said.

Bank officials said the that conflict of interest on part of the bank, as it is a party in the case, was the reason for the Justices ordering the DNP to auction the building.

Tandin Bidha and observers from the legal sector raised questions on whether the Justices can revisit its verdict after having already reviewed it.

Tshering Palden 

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