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Conservation officials accused of embezzling fund

The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) is reviewing the report of the Anti-Corruption Commission’s (ACC) investigation into a fund embezzlement case in Takin restocking work.

The ACC forwarded the investigation report, asking for probable prosecution last month.

The OAG prosecutor said they are reviewing the ACC report to determine if it merits prosecution.

The ACC recommended the OAG to prosecute two senior officials from the Department of Forest and Park Services (DoFPS), the deputy chief livestock production officer and senior forest ranger of nature conservation division (NCD), and a vegetable vendor in Bajo, Wangdue, for their direct or indirect participation in the alleged embezzlement.

The alleged embezzlement, according to the ACC report, occurred during the Takin capture and restocking operation done in the first quarter of 2017 by NCD’s wildlife rescue and animal health section.

A budget of Nu 500,000 was approved to carry out the operation.

According to the report, the deputy chief livestock production officer was assigned the task to restock five female takins at the Motithang Takin Preserve from Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Park (JDNP) in Gasa after more than 20 Takins died at the preserve.

The operation was carried out from March 1 to April 19 last year.

The deputy chief production officer is alleged of taking an advance of Nu 250,000 for the execution of the Takin restocking project with a team consisting of five men from the section and 10 forestry officials from the JDNP.

The budget estimation prepared by the team leader reflected expenses for construction of hideouts and bridges, physical transportation of sedated takins from the capture site to the road point and then to the release site at Motithang preserve in addition to camp shifting and purchase of animal baits.

However, ACC’s investigation revealed that the construction of bridges and manual transportation of sedated takins were all done by the forestry staff engaged in the assignment instead of the local labourers as reflected in the muster roll while the hideouts were never built at the site in Gasa.

The report stated that the officer had allegedly fabricated five pages of muster roll and each muster roll had names and thumbprints of 18 labourers. All names were same in the five pages of muster roll. The labourers hired were from Yeminang and Khailoo in Khatoe gewog, Gasa, as reflected in the muster rolls.

“On interview, people from the locality stated that they were never hired by the forestry division nor did they sign or put their thumbprint on the muster roll,” the ACC report stated.

It also stated that most of the people, whose names are reflected in the muster roll, said that they don’t know the officer in question nor received any payment from the forestry division.

The investigation revealed that the team had actually hired only one local labourer for the work. “The officer allegedly settled Nu 250,000 that he took to meet expenses at the site through muster rolls fraud and fake hand receipts and bills.”

The ACC alleged that they found the muster rolls prepared by the accused were countersigned by the senior ranger, who was also involved in the takin restocking work, which was finally approved by the chief forestry officer.

“Despite his knowledge that no labourers were hired, he verified the muster rolls and fraudulently aided the prime accused in the embezzlement of the fund through the use of muster rolls,” the ACC report stated.

ACC also claimed that investigations found that the accused had fabricated two hand receipts for camp shifting. “The hand receipts show that all 14 and 16 pack horses belonged to people who were either non-existent or who never owned any horses.”

The report stated that the officer admitted that actual camp shifting was done but without any charges.  He also confessed to forging his own thumbprints and signatures to fabricate muster rolls and hand receipts to support his claims.  “He also got hold of an empty bill where he falsified his claims for the purchase of animal baits. Although one bag of salt was procured and used in the field, maize and wheat were fictitious.”

The investigation revealed that a vegetable vendor, who doesn’t deal with grocery items, issued an empty bill from his shop in Bajo.

Based on the findings of the investigation, the ACC recommended the prosecution to charge the deputy chief livestock production officer for embezzlement of funds or securities by public servants under section 52 of Anti-Corruption Act of Bhutan 2011 and forgery as per the Penal Code of Bhutan 2004.

ACC stated that both senior ranger and vegetable vendor were recommended to be charged for participation in the offence.

ACC investigated the case after the commission received a complaint through its website on September 18, 2017.

Rinzin Wangchuk

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