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Former chancery head in Bangkok sentenced for embezzlement

Thimphu dzongkhag court on May 22 sentenced the former head of chancery of Bhutan’s embassy in Bangkok to nine years and one month in prison for 12 counts of embezzlement.

The court also ordered him to refund to the state Nu 16.23 million (M) that he had embezzled from the money meant to cover referral treatment of patients in Bangkok.

Chendra Tobgay, among others, had violated the Penal Code of Bhutan section 287 and was given a concurrent sentence.

Of the Thai Baht 11.315M that the finance ministry paid Bumrangrad hospital in Bangkok on December 30, 2011 as medical expenses, about Thai Baht 1.73M or Nu 2.81M was for a patient, King Song Wang’s treatment. This was the biggest amount that he had embezzled.

The patient, who worked at the Buddha Dordenma construction site in Thimphu, had met with an accident on December 2009. The Buddha Dordenma Image Foundation in Singapore paid the expenses of the treatment. Chendra Tobgay had received the money from the foundation but had not cleared the due with the hospital and embezzled the money, the court ruled.

He had treated his late mother at the hospital at an expense of Nu 6.032M.

However, he had not cleared the dues and the state paid the dues on December 30, 2011.

For this Chendra Tobgay was booked for official misconduct as per section 294 of the Penal Code of Bhutan 2004 and ordered a concurrent sentence of a month in prison. He was also ordered to refund the amount to the state.

The court also found him guilty of deceptive practice for which he was sentenced to a month in prison.  He was entitled to housing allowance and utility expenses but he claimed Thai Baht 5,500 from the landlord.

He was also found guilty of other offences that included nine counts of embezzlement of medical expenses for 11 persons worth Nu 9.67M. The court ordered him to refund within 15 days from the date of judgment to the OAG or serve equivalent prison term.

Chendra Tobgay has to refund Nu 492,980 to the state or go to prison. The amount was unresolved expenses from procurement of goods for the ministerial enclave for the SAARC summit held in Thimphu in 2010. The funds were from the foreign ministry.

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) took about three years to investigate the alleged misuse of funds and another year to compile the report.

In ACC’s report, released in May 2014, the commission found that a senior accounts personnel at the embassy was managing the fund through proper books of accounts, and expenditure was periodically submitted directly to the finance ministry before July 2008.

Chendra Tobgay, however, had withdrawn every incoming remittance from the finance ministry directly out of the “Special USD account” in cash from July 2008, and kept the embassy in the dark as to what he was doing with the money.  The accused also discontinued the earlier practice of maintaining subsidiary cashbook to reflect receipts and payments.

The mismanagement of referral funds surfaced some time in 2011, when the government became aware that a huge outstanding had accumulated with certain hospitals in Bangkok, despite funds being released.

During its investigation from February 2007 until August 2011, ACC found that the accused had withdrawn about USD 1.4 million or Nu 63.5 million for the purpose of settling medical bills and other related expenses between July 2008 and December 2010.

The finance ministry had remitted about Nu 85M between 2008 and 2010, as advance or reimbursement against medical treatments and travel expenses.  However, the defendant had operated the fund transaction and it did not go to the hospitals.

Tshering Palden

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