ACC still assessing JPLP properties; convict missing

Puran Gurung, Thimphu The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) is still assessing the worth of buildings and other properties seized from the owner of Jatan Prasad Lalchand (JPLP) departmental store who is at large following conviction by the Supreme Court. The court declared that the convict, Lalchand Prasad, must pay Nu 154.61 million by way of taxes evaded, interest accrued and fines. The ACC also dispelled a rumour that the seized properties are not enough to pay the taxes and fines. “We have not completed assessing the worth of buildings and other properties of JPLP, it is just a guesstimate of the people,” said an ACC Commissioner, Jamtsho. If seized properties are not enough to recover the amount, the state can also opt for extradition, said a practising private lawyer. The Extradition Act says: "Any person accused or convicted of an extradition offence who is surrendered or returned by a treaty state may be brought into Bhutan and delivered to the authority specified in the warrant of arrest or surrender issues by the treaty state for facing charges in accordance with the law of Bhutan."  The Supreme Court on May 29, 2021, convicted Lal Chand Prasad for tax evasion and imposed a fine of Nu 154.61 m. He was sentenced to five years of non-compoundable prison term. As charged by the ACC, the Indian national doing business in Bhutan was found guilty for tax evasion, deflection of goods, false invoicing and declaration of goods. According to the Supreme Court, JPLP evaded tax amounting to Nu 38.98 m between 2011 and 2014. Including the penalty for concealment and 24 percent per annum interest for late payment, he was ordered to pay a total amount of Nu 154.61 m to the state. Imprisoned for about three months in Phuentsholing starting June 17, 2015, the businessman later fled after paying bailout money amounting to Nu 80 m. With still Nu 74.61 m left to recover, Anti-Corruption Commission seized JPLP properties. The properties will be publicly auctioned. Lal Chand's properties were confiscated after he failed to deposit the penalty and interest for late payment to the state as per the Supreme Court's order. Meanwhile, the Fourth Session of the 3rd Parliament with the objective to reinvigorate the government's efforts to control fronting, and mitigate the economic and social impact on the country, has classified the act of business fronting as a criminal offence in the Penal Code (Amendment) Act of Bhutan (PCAAB) 2021. It was also announced that the offence will be implemented by next year. The Ministry of Economic Affairs cautions the general public and businesses to refrain from engaging in fronting and also requested immediate termination of such arrangements to avoid unnecessary implications, and notifies that any cases of fronting activities detected after 31st December, 2021 shall be dealt as per the provisions of the Penal Code (Amendment) Act of Bhutan 2021.