Tenzin Namgay/ Thimphu With hundreds of businesses in Phuentsholing denying involvement of fronting activity, hundreds of other trading and service licenses surrendered their licenses. This is in regard to government’s recent sensitization programme. As suspects of fronting businesses in Phuentsholing – sources claim there are about 274 businesses carrying fronting activity. According to Ministry of Economic Affairs, there are about 60 trading licenses and 55 service licenses surrendering their business licenses while another 100 business license holders denied the fronting activity accusations. Those business owners denying party to fronting activity, they confirmed the same with written statements. As the fronting circular is at onset phase, businesses involved in fronting can surrender now without having to face penalties, later they will be liable for criminal charges. Many suspected businesses involved in fronting are partially confirmed by the shops that has been closed with the closure of the border gate in Phuentsholing. It will only be confirmed with in-depth inspection. Earlier in July, 2021, the Ministry of Economic Affairs circulated the notification on fronting stating: “The Ministry of Economic Affairs would like to bring to the kind notice of the general public and businesses that the Fourth Session of the 3 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 (2021).” As the government classified fronting as a criminal offence, the Penal Code (Amendment) Act of Bhutan (2021) that will come into effect in 2022’s January, the acts states: "A defendant shall be guilty of an offence of if the defendant leases or subleases, hires or otherwise permits another person to use or operate one's license unless otherwise permitted by laws or policies. Contravening Section 284 G of the PCAAB will be criminally charged as per the Civil and Criminal Procedure Code of Bhutan 2001 and liable under Section 284 H of the PCAAB, “(a) if the fronting takes place between Bhutanese nationals: (i) a violation for the first conviction; and (ii) petty misdemeanour and cancellation of license for the second conviction; and (b) a felony of the fourth degree, or a value-based sentencing, whichever is higher, if the fronting takes place: (i) between Bhutanese and a person other than a Bhutanese national; and (ii) between persons other than a Bhutanese national". Stating the criminal charges, the Ministry of Economic Affairs’ press release adds: “the Ministry hereby cautions the general public and businesses to refrain from engaging in fronting and also requests for immediate termination of such arrangements (if any) to avoid unnecessary implications. Further, the Ministry notifies that any cases of fronting activities detected after 31 December 2021 shall be dealt as per the above provisions of the Penal Code (Amendment) Act of Bhutan 2021.” The law will come into effect from January next year.
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