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Penjore calls for face-off with AG

The defendant seeks to fight the accuser one-on-one in the court of law

By Tashi Namgyal

In his latest rebuttal, the defendant in the โ€œOAGโ€™s AG Vs Penjoreโ€ case, Penjore seeks to openly challenge the Attorney General (AG) Lungten Dubjur in the court of law, but through a โ€œfair groundโ€.

Notwithstanding the nature of the case, Penjore claims that since his posts were โ€˜categoricallyโ€™ and โ€˜specificallyโ€™ meant for the Attorney General (AG) and the BNBL Chief, the two of them should step down from whatever post they are currently holding and should fight the case individually without using State machineries and imposing autocracy on him.

โ€œTime and again I have said and I will always say the things I said against them. Label the accusations I made on them and write the as I please because there is truth in every bit and every inch of my words and actions,โ€ Penjore said.

โ€œHowever, if they are displeased, felt defamed or anything of that sort, they are always welcome to challenge me whenever and wherever they want. But the only thing I am concerned about is them using public resources to quench their personal vendetta against me,โ€ he said.

According to Penjore, AG Lungten Dubjur in collusion with KipchuTsheringโ€™s BNBL over crime and corruption in the โ€˜Penjore VsBNBL โ€™ case then, and โ€˜Penjore Vs OAGโ€™s AGโ€™ case now, should be charged for sedition for having misled the judiciary, misled the Royal Government of Bhutan and most importantly, misled the State as the AG and the High Court Chief Justice then in 2015.

Banking on his supporting documents, Penjore calls for sedition charges under the Penal Code of Bhutan (PCB) Chapter 10-Criminal Attempt, Chapter 22 Section 324-False Advertising, Section 249-Extortion, Section 269-Reckless Endangerment of Property, and Section 302-Deceptive Practices.

โ€œI am not against all the judges or justices in the judiciary. I am only against corrupt justices like Justice Lungten Dubjur and Judge Pema Rinzin,โ€ he said.

He reiterated that all his Facebook posts were always in support of the honest judges with an element of nation building.

โ€œTherefore, I am now ready to face them in the court,โ€ he said. He claimed that since he categorically mentioned in his 4th May 2021 post concerning BNBL forging case of their 12 support staffs, and that the AG and BNBL top executives must resign, it is not defamation. โ€œIn other words, it is to state that I have not defamed anybody going by Section 318 of the PCB.โ€

โ€œThey (AG and BNBL top executives) have their Constitutional rights to file a defamation case against me in the court of law, for which, I am ready to find out whether I defamed them or not,โ€ he added.

He said that the first step towards a fair trial should be for the AG to step down from the post as the most โ€˜non-negotiable pointโ€™ and to file the case as a private individual/citizen, but not as the AG.

โ€œThe same reasoning applies to BNBL top executives. This is the meaning of a fair trial and it is in this context that I would like to request the Prime Minister to now fire or remove the AG till such a time this court case is over and till AG Lungten Dubjur and BNBL top executives are cleared by the court on this crime and corruption matter,โ€ Penjore said.

He is adamant that it is the governmentโ€™s top priority to ensure that corruption is stopped at all levels and not supported in any way, in any slightest form of favor, even if it is committed by anyone in the government, by the people in the positions of power under the governmentโ€™s good governance tenets of making an exemplary corruption free country.

โ€œI am confident that the PM will now put into practice his hire and fire policy against the AG, who has not sought the PMโ€™s permission and for having misused his power, and for having misled the government into fighting his own vested interest driven out of personal vendetta against me,โ€ he said.

โ€œIf the OAG has not sought permission from the PM, it is their fault.โ€

According to Penjore, should the AG use public resources or the OAG/government machinery in this case, it is tantamount to the government supporting corruption and risks sending a wrong message to the people.

Outside the comfort zone, judicial experts are now hinting towards a tussle between fundamental rights versus fundamental duties.

โ€œOn one point, the law is talking about fundamental rights and duties. While fundamental rights of people like Penjore is being questioned here, nobody is questioning the fundamental duties of people in power-the very guiding principles of the constitution,โ€ a law expert requesting anonymity said.

On Penjore seeking an open trial in the court, the expert said that it is upto the discretion of the judge who will preside over the case. โ€œBut Penjore can still seek an open and fair trial.โ€

Penjore was supposed to be charged this week in connection to online defamation, libel, and sedition. However, the prosecution was delayed because of forensic examination of Penjoreโ€™s phone records and social media forums. Preliminary investigation by the police and subsequent review of the case by prosecutors from the OAG revealed that there are more people involved who attacked and maligned institutions and individuals through Bhutanese Forums.

Experts said that the new developments will not change the dynamics of the case. The OAG can charge others too but will have to go beyond normal procedures. โ€œHowever, if OAG is charging on behalf of other institutions, they can do so only with their request, but they cannot charge on behalf of individuals,โ€ the lawyer said.

PMโ€™s role according to experts

Another lawyer said that the PM should question why the AG did not consult him, and maybe even reprimand him on such an important and sensitive issue like this one. โ€œUltimately, if something serious happens as a result, the government will be responsible and cannot wash their hands off,โ€ he said.

The lawyer added that the PM should weigh the issue. โ€œIt is a constitutional issue and needs professional consideration besides the OAG,โ€ he said. However, he reminded that it is โ€˜not mandatoryโ€™ for the PM to be consulted.

Another expert is of the view that it must be a political gimmick whilst using the OAG as a stick to silence dissent. โ€œOtherwise it is inconceivable that the OAG will do something of this nature without consulting the PM,โ€ he reiterated.

On the probability of AG facing Penjore one-on-one on the battlefield, experts said that the AG is liable to face off Penjore but will be a question of how far he can go since State bodies like OAG are supposed to absorb criticism much more than an individual.

โ€œThatโ€™s where the courts will have to draw their line,โ€ said an expert.

Probable defense lines for Penjore

The BNBL paid retirement benefits amounting to more than Nu. 1,53,000 for six staffs in contravention to the Human Resource Policy Manual 2016. The bank instead of terminating services of those staffs who had been recruited based on forged documents had asked the employees to put up resignation letters, which were then accepted and employees relieved from service with benefits.

However, the probable charges of official misconduct and failure to report the crime against BNBLโ€™s Executive Management Committee were dropped by the OAG after a review due to lack of evidence.

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