ACC labels corruption charges on former labor minister and employment Director General

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The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has charged former labor minister Ngeema Sangay Tshempo and Director General of Department of Employment Sherab Tenzin for corruption, bribery and unethical conduct in connection with their involvement in the overseas employment program in India.

The ACC commenced the investigation on this case on 29 November 2017 based on a walk-in complaint. The complainant alleged collusion and bribery between officials of Department of Employment and Human Resources (DoEHR), particularly Sherab Tenzin, the incumbent Director General and Manav Dhingra, Head of Operations, International Institute of Hospitality and Wellness Studies (IIWS), Greater Noida, India.

The ACC investigation found that the former Minister solicited and accepted investments amounting to Rs 3mn from Manav Dhingra to set up a partnership business, M/s. Tshomo Hiring, which was operated through the use of proxies/front namely Pema Tshomo Sherpa (former Lyonpo’s niece, who is currently in Japan) and Dilu Giri, General Manager of Druk Hotel (Manav Dhingra’s friend).

Although, former minister is the real beneficial owner of M/s. Tshomo Hiring, he concealed his asset (excavator), income (hiring income) and liabilities (BNBL loan for excavator) in his asset declaration for the year 2017. Further, Lyonpo solicited and accepted a gemstone worth Rs. 85,000 and rudraksh rosary worth Rs. 71,983 from Manav Dhingra.

The ACC charged the former labor minister for offence of false declarations with a view to conceal under section 64 of Anti Corruption Act of Bhutan 2011.

ACC investigations found that Manav Dhingra used to pay courtesy visits at former Lyonpo’s residence (Minister’s Enclave) Motithang, where they discussed business ideas and placement of youths. In one of Manav Dhingra’s such visits sometime in 2016, the former Lyonpo had proposed to jointly set up a heavy earth moving equipment hiring business.

According to Manav Dhingra, former Lyonpo proposed number of business ideas and asked him to finance or be his business partner and he eventually agreed to finance or be a partner in the proposed excavator hiring business. He decided to be 50% partner in the hiring business and invest Rs 3 mn to buy an excavator after hearing about the business viability from former Lyonpo.

It was found that former Lyonpo had asked Manav Dhingra to look for a Bhutanese citizen, who could be used as his front/proxy to operate the business in a legal manner. He had then approached Dilu Giri, the General Manager of Druk Hotel, Thimphu, who agreed to be the front/proxy of Manav Dhingra.

Dilu Giri stated that he knew Manav Dhingra since he stayed in Druk Hotel during his visit to Thimphu. Subsequently on April 15, 2016, M/s. Tshomo Hiring was established and registered jointly in name of Dilu Giri and Ms. Pema Tshomo Sherpa. Investigations found that the real beneficial owners of M/s. Tshomo Hiring were the former Lyonpo and his wife, Namgay Lhamo legally represented by their niece and Manav Dhingra legally represented by Dilu Giri.

This was corroborated by Dilu Giri’s admission in his second statement that he was a front/proxy of Mr. Manav Dhingra, who agreed to give him 30% of the earnings from the 50% ownership of the hiring business with former Lyonpo. Dilu Giri stated that he visited former Lyonpo in Lyonpo’s office to understand the business proposition, where he was also introduced to former Lyonpo’s wife and niece.

Besides, the ACC investigation also found that M/s. Tshomo Hiring employs a Kotmatsu Excavator PC 210 bearing registration no BP-2A-5174 at Sonam Drukpa’s Eastern Bhutan Coal Company Limited (SDEBCCL), Samdrup Jongkhar. The payments for the excavator were made in two instances. The advance payment (40%) amounting to Nu 2.64mn was deposited on 27 May 2016 in CBE’s Bank of Bhutan Limited (BoBL) account by Dilu Giri.

Initially, he tried to hide the source of payment but later admitted that Manav Dhingra had given him cash amounting to Rs. 3 mn in Phuentsholing through an intermediary, out of which Nu. 2.64mn was sent as advance payment to CBE for ordering the excavator.

According to him, the balance cash amounting to Rs. 0.360mn was handed over to Namgay Lhamo to bear the transportation cost and miscellaneous expenses.

Manav Dhingra also admitted to have paid his share of Rs. 3mn in cash to Dilu Giri in Phuentsholing to buy an excavator for setting up M/s. Tshomo Hiring. The final payment (60%) amounting to Nu. 3.960mn was transferred on 28 June 2016 in CBE’s Bhutan National Bank Limited (BNBL) account.

ACC found that the final payment was financed through BNBL loan sanctioned in the name of Pema Tshomo Sherpa.  At that time, she was unemployed. Her personal bank account of BoBL reveals that she received monthly stipend amounting to Nu 5,250 between January 2015 to August 2016. Besides, it was found that Namgay Lhamo operated the hiring business through a power of attorney obtained from Pema Tshomo Sherpa after her departure for Japan in October 2017.

Namgay Lhamo denied that M/s Tshomo Hiring, in reality, was owned by former Lyonpo and her but later admitted to owing it. On the contrary, former Lyonpo denied of discussing about the establishment of M/s. Tshomo hiring business with Manav Dhingra despite investigation proving otherwise.

The ACC found that former labor minister, despite being a public servant, solicited and accepted investments to set up a partnership business, M/s. Tshomo Hiring through the use of proxies/front, which otherwise is an illegitimate business. He also engaged in a conduct that was in conflict with his public position as the then Minister of MoLHR.

As a foreigner, Manav Dhingra is not allowed to invest or associate in any trade in Bhutan without prior consent of the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MoEA).

The former labor minister also accepted jewelries worth Rs 156,983 from a prohibited source, Manav Dhingra of IIWS.

The former Lyonpo’s conduct of soliciting and accepting a gemstone and rudraksh rosary from a prohibited source was found to be in conflict with his position as the then Minister of MoLHR and in violation of the Gift Rules of Bhutan 2009.

The ACC also uncovered collusion and bribery among officials of DoEHR particularly Director General Sherab Tenzin and Manav Dhingra.

IIWS owned by Vineeta Dhingra, wife of Manav Dhingra, had been repeatedly bagging tenders for training and placements of Bhutanese youths in India. He is accused of having close association with the Director General and also bribing and giving expensive gifts to officials of MoLHR, Thimphu.

The Commission’s investigation found that Director General not only sought financial assistance amounting to Rs. 589,000 from Manav Dhingra to buy a napkin paper making machine and materials for setting up his son’s business but also engaged in a conduct that was in conflict with his public position as the DG of DoEHR, MoLHR.

Despite the conflict, the DG participated as a member of the Ministerial Level Tender Committee on Guaranteed Overseas Employment through Training on 30 September 2016 where IIWS was one of the winning bidders.

The ACC has asked the assessed value Nu. 3mn for the Kotmatsu Excavator PC 210 and Nu 589,000 for the Napkin paper making machine and materials to be restituted.

Between 2010 and 2107, MoLHR had sent 1224 youths to India under the GOET program. Majority of these youths were trained and placed in various firms in India by IIWS. Other institutes that trained and placed the youths were Alfresco Solution LLP and Fitciti Technology Private Limited.

Chencho Dema from Thimphu