Zhemgang’s Goshing gup, Sangay Lethro, remains suspended for more than a year now for alleged corruption even as the case is ongoing in the Panbang drungkhag court.
The Department of Local Governance (DLG) suspended the gup in July last year on the recommendation of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) for the case that took place between 2011 and 2015.
However, the government maintains that it would not suspend Home Minister Sherub Gyeltshen despite the Thimphu district convicting him on August 27 for fraudulently claiming vehicle insurance worth Nu 226,546. Earlier in April this year, before the district court’s verdict, the ACC had asked the prime minister in writing to follow due deligence in the home minister’s case.
Speaking at the Friday Meet on September 13, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said that he would not take action, justifying that the legal proceeding was ongoing. “It all depends on Lyonpo Sherub Gyeltshen.”
As his or her fundamental right, a person charged with a penal offence under Article 7(16) of the Constitution has the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty in accordance with the law.
A Thimphu-based legal expert said that the Thimphu district court verdict does not stand after the appeal has been made in the High Court, as the case is subjudice. He said that forcing an accused to resign until the final verdict is issued could lead to unnecessary victimisation of the person in question.
However, he added that some appeals could be made just for the sake of buying time. “It’s not a good precedent to cling on to the post once the trail court has convicted him or her for the interest of fighting corruption. The best solution is to step down voluntarily on moral grounds.”
The legal practitioner said that the judiciary should conduct a summary trial to put the issue to rest as soon as possible for the best interest of the country and the government. “The judiciary should take this case seriously.”
But some critics say that the home minister stands convicted until he is cleared by a higher court and does not enjoy the benefit of the doubt since his conviction by the Thimphu district court. The higher courts can overturn a verdict.
Lyonpo Sherub Gyeltshen can appeal to the Supreme Court if he is not satisfied with the verdict of the High Court. If the verdict is upheld by the appeal courts, the home minister would have occupied the position as a person “guilty of fraud.”
It is the prime minister who recommends the removal of a minister from his Cabinet, as per Article 17(3) of the constitution.
According to Section 167(2) of the ACC Act, a public servant who is charged with an offence under this Act shall be suspended with effect from the date of the charge till pending the outcome of any appeals.
However, the prime minister maintains that his position in the Cabinet does not impede investigation or court proceedings.
Section 167(1) adds, “A public servant shall be suspended during the investigation if his or her attendance in his public office is likely to impede the investigation proceeding or when there is likelihood of available evidence being influenced, removed or tampered from the official record which may be under his or her subordinate’s guardianship.”
The prime minister added that the case started even before Lyonpo Sherub Gyeltshen joined the party.
The home minister, who is also the ruling party’s vice president, was fielded as a candidate despite the case being looked into by the Office of Attorney General last year. He is a former drangpon and former secretary of Dzongkha Development Commission (DDC).
Some members within the party said that inaction could lead to a greater damage to the party. A Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) member said that it would be a win-win situation for both the government and the party to settle the issue at the earliest.
Section 179 of the election Act disqualifies a person who has been convicted for any criminal offence and sentenced to imprisonment and has been accused of felony in a pending case and the competent Court has taken cognizance and charges have been framed against him/her.
However, the legal expert said that the disqualification clauses in the ACC Act cannot be applied since the case wasn’t registered in the court during the election period.
According to the home minister’s attorney, the case involved “question of law and question of facts” and that his client had valid comprehensive insurance scheme on his vehicle.
The minister’s lawyer, Yeshey Wangdi, earlier told Kuensel said the minister’s innocence could be proved. “There are critical evidences submitted to the court proving the innocence of my client which are left unattended by the Trial Court.”