An investigation conducted by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has found eight immigration officials involved in embezzlement of funds amounting to Nu 7.278mn at the immigration office in Paro international airport from January 2013 to June 2017.
Of the total embezzled amount, Nu 2.464mn was deposited in the government account prior to the ACC’s investigation.
The officials who embezzled the funds generated from visa fees included messenger Sonam Dorji. He joined the immigration office at Paro airport in May 2006 after being transferred from the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs (MoHCA). Between March 2013 and May 2016, he worked as the cash dealing official. He had pocketed Nu 5.815mn.
The Administrative Assistant, Tandin Wangchuk, had embezzled Nu 0.133mn. He served in the immigration office at Paro airport from February 2012 to March 2016. He was the cash dealing official in the absence of Sonam Dorji, Sr. Immigration Officer. Between August 2016 and March 2017, he shouldered the responsibility of collecting cash from inspectors. Currently, he is posted in the Immigration Office at Samtse.
Senior Immigration Officer Sonam Dorji had embezzled Nu 0.032 mn. He joined the immigration office at Paro airport in June 2016, after being transferred from the Regional Immigration Office (RIO)in Phuentsholing.
Between June 2016 to May 2017, he worked as the cash dealing official. He was also given the responsibility of monitoring and supervising the overall functioning of the immigration office since he was the second in command after the officer in-charge, the Chief Immigration Officer.
Senior IT Associate Kinzang Pemo had embezzled Nu 0.035mn. She joined the immigration office at airport in March 2015 after being transferred from the RIO in Gelephu. She had also collected visa fees from foreign nationals using coupons.
Assistant Immigration Inspector Sangay Norbu had embezzled Nu 0.222 mn. He served in the immigration office at Paro airport from June 2010 to February 2015. He was one of the inspectors, who had collected visa fees from foreign nationals using coupons. Currently, he is posted in the RIO in Phuentsholing.
Assistant Immigration Inspector Dorji Wangchuk had embezzled Nu. 0.250mn. He served in the immigration office at Paro airport from February 2011 to February 2015. Currently, he is posted in RIO in Samtse.
Assistant Immigration Inspector Thinley Jamtsho had embezzled Nu. 0.252mn. He joined immigration office at Paro airport in October 2014.
Assistant Immigration Inspector Ratu had embezzled Nu 0.537mn. He joined the immigration office at Paro airport in June 2013.
The Immigration Inspectors were found to have collected the visa fees from foreign nationals but had not handed over the cash to the dealing official to be deposited into the government account.
Thus, the above officials have been charged for committing the offence of embezzlement of government funds by public servant as per 52 (b) of the Anti-Corruption Act of Bhutan (ACAB) 2011. In the event of conviction, they shall be liable for restitution of the embezzled fund along with 24% penal interest.
The investigation determined that sometime in 2012, the Department of Immigration (DoI) had printed 500 booklets of visa fee receipts (coupon) of 100 pages each. The coupon pages (coupon leaflets) were numbered from 001 to 50,000.
On December 6, 2012, DoI had issued the aforementioned coupons to the immigration office in Paro. These coupons were issued while collecting visa fees from foreign nationals (without gratis visa) entering Bhutan through Paro airport.
Each coupon leaflet was valued at US$40 each totaling to US$4,000 a booklet. However, from August 1, 2014, Paro immigration office started collecting fees in Bhutanese currency amounting to Nu 2,500 as per Foreign Exchange Regulations 2013.
In addition to the above, a total of 13 booklets corresponding to 1,300 coupon pages were found missing. Despite the Commission’s request, DoI could not furnish the missing coupons to the Commission. Neither the record of coupon pages issued to foreign nationals nor the deposit of visa fee collections into Royal Government account could be traced.
Nonetheless, the Commission’s investigation, through the records from the immigration database, was able to confirm that 692 coupon pages had been misused out of the 1,300 missing coupon pages.
Considering that the Immigration Office, Paro had already adjusted 300 coupon pages from the missing lot prior to the Commission’s investigation, the actual missing coupon pages misused is found to be 392 pages amounting to Nu 980,000. However, in the absence of key documents (coupons), the Commission is not able to find the perpetrators to fix accountability for the misuse of 392 missing coupons.
In between June 2015 to March 2017, the issue was audited twice by Internal Audit, MoHCA, one before and the other after the revenue audit of the Regional Revenue and Customs Office (RRCO), Paro. Then, later it was conducted by Disciplinary Committee, MoHCA to verify the findings of the audit reports. Thereafter, a complaint – suspected embezzlement of government fund by officials of immigration office at Paro airport was forwarded by the Secretary, MoHCA for the Commission’s intervention.
Thereafter, the Revenue Accounts and Audit Section of RRCO, Paro had inspected the RIO at Paro airport.
The inspection focused on government revenue management, verification of collections and deposit account and verification of inventory of departmental stocks (coupon), revenue stocks and its utilization. The inspection team pointed out lapses of government revenue management, missing of government instruments (like visa coupons) and short deposit of government revenue. The unresolved memos of four out of the seven led to auditing by Internal Audit, MoHCA followed by Disciplinary Committee of the ministry. The committee found out that the act of the alleged officials (messenger and inspectors) of RIO constituted an offense under Section 77(2) of the Anti-Corruption Act of Bhutan 2011 (ACAB 2011) and the case was forwarded to ACC on April 12, 2017.
Visa fee and its type
The immigration office at Paro airport collects fees from foreign nationals excluding tourists, gratis visa holders and regional visitors.
The immigration office in Paro also collects fines and penalties from foreign nationals in addition to the visa fees, in the event of any violation of immigration laws.
DOI had introduced the use of coupons during the collection of visa fees from foreign nationals (non-gratis) entering Bhutan from Paro airport from January 2013. The coupon system was introduced with the objective to reduce the turnaround time for processing the visa of foreign nationals.
Before 2013, the immigration office, Paro had collected visa fees using a similar coupon issued by the Bank of Bhutan in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. During the time, one coupon booklet was issued daily and collections were accounted at the end of the day.
Chencho Dema from Thimphu