Yangchen C Rinzin
After almost three months of investigation, Thimphu police forwarded the Bhutan Employment Overseas (BEO) case related to learn and earn programme (LEP) in Japan to the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) on October 23.
This was following a petition submitted by the parents’ representatives and youth sent to Japan through LEP to the Chief of Police on June 27. About 100 parents went to the Royal Bhutan Police headquarters to register a criminal complaint against BEO.
After police registered the case, the two owners of BEO, Tenzin Rigden and Jurmey Tshewang, were arrested on August 30. They were released on bail the next day.
The parents’ representative submitted five allegations to the police, which are forgery, deceptive practices, harassment, abandonment of a person in danger, and human trafficking.
Following the investigation, police have charged 19 people in the case including the two owners of the BEO, labour ministry’s director general Sherab Tenzin, 12 former employees and four current employees of BEO.
Investigating officers of RBP said that of the five allegations, human trafficking and abandonment of a person in danger were dropped or ruled out since it did not have any criminal elements.
“To qualify as human trafficking, there should be elements where the students should be taken to Japan without the government, parents and the students’ knowledge. The youth were sent by the government as a part of LEP,” a police officer said.
Police said that the investigation found the two owners were liable for forgery, as BEO had forged the bank statements for 730 students using Bank of Bhutan’s letterhead, logo and fictitious bank manager’s name and signature.
“Students were required to show a bank statement of about Nu 1.8 million to get the visa and we verified from the bank where the banks never issued the bank statement. There was no general manager with that name working with the bank,” an investigating officer said. “One of their staff forged a bank manager’s signature while another staff had forged bank’s round seal.”
Another charge of forgery, according to police, is for creating fictitious income statement or salary slip of students’ guardians forging Bhutan Security Exchange of Bhutan documents. “We verified and it was found they never issued such statement.”
Police said the two were liable for deceptive practice as they promised the students that they would earn certain salary once they reach Japan and start earning but the students did not earn as promised including part-time jobs, which they were supposed to get during the first few days and then in a month.
In terms of contract agreement, police found that BEO had asked the third batch students to sign two different agreements with different clauses deceiving the students.
“Initially, BEO’s principal agent in Japan was Light Path Company, which was supposed to help students go to institute and find a job in Japan. BEO had later changed the principal agent to SND company without informing the labour ministry or parents,” an investigating officer said.
The two owners were charged for harassment through the owners’ deceptive practices.
In the course of investigation, police found that owners were liable for an additional charge. DG Sherab Tenzin was found liable for official misconduct and the employees for aiding and abetting, and failing to report the crime.
Police officials said that director general Sherab Tenzin would be liable for official misconduct for failing to monitor the programme.
“The former labour minister had asked the department to prepare a memorandum of understanding with the BEO but it never happened. The director, as the head of the department, also failed to monitor when BEO changed the principal agent without informing them.”
Police added another charge of larceny by deception on different counts against the two owners.
Police explained that when the students took loan from the Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan Limited, the loan amount was deposited directly to BEO’s account instead of the students’ account.
“BEO was managing the students’ loan for batch I,” a police official said. “Later when batch II and III took loan from Bhutan Development Bank Limited, it was initially deposited in students’ account, but BEO later took the money from their account,” an official said. “BEO, however, did not manage loans for the rest of the batches because of complaints and ministry’s intervention.”
Investigation also revealed that although the visa fee was Nu 2,400, BEO charged Nu 6,680 to students. BEO had refunded after seven months. Each student was also charged a translation fee of Nu 7,500 but BEO didn’t have any evidence to prove where the translation fees were used.
Police also said BEO charged the translation fee without any approval or informing the ministry.
The BEO had also charged airfare of Nu 50,000 for first two batches when it was only Nu 35,000 each. The amount was, however, refunded to the students later.
BEO had charged loan insurance of Nu 4,000 (actual fee was 2,380) for first batch students and charged Nu 3,000 (actual was 2,779) for second and third batch. Without any approval or issuing money receipt, they also charged documentation fee of Nu 2,665 for the first batch and Nu 2,684 for the second to sixth batch.
Police said that investigation also revealed that BEO had informed the students and parents that they would take care of the requirement of bank statement of Nu 1.8M, which is why students and parents were oblivious of forged documents. “This proves the students were deceived,” an investigating officer said.
Police said BEO had also told the students it would be difficult in Japan and they would require to work hard.
The former and present BEO employees of BEO were charged for aiding and abetting and failure to report a crime.
Meanwhile, of the 730 students (six batches) who went to Japan through BEO, 212 have returned. A total of 490 students and parents had signed the power of attorney to take the owners to the court.
Additional reporting by