CIAA files case at Special Court against 175 in Lalita Niwas land scam

Published On: February 6, 2020 02:25 PM NPT By: Ananta Raj Luitel

KATHMANDU, Feb 6: The Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) on Wednesday filed a charge-sheet against 175 individuals, including some erstwhile bigwigs, at the Special Court, accusing them of involvement in illegally registering Lalita Niwas land in the names of various individuals.

Nepali Congress (NC) leader and former deputy prime minister Vijaya Kumar Gachchhadar, former ministers Chandra Dev Joshi, Chhabiraj Pant and Dambar Shrestha, former government secretary Dinesh Hari Adhikari and former secretary and CIAA ex-chief Dip Basnyat, are among those being charge-sheeted.

The CIAA has sought a court order to bring the Lalita Niwas land back under the name of the government and impose billions in fines on those found guilty. The anti-graft watchdog has accused the 175 individuals of illegally registering more than 299 ropani of government and guthi (trust) land at Lalita Niwas in Baluwatar in the names of various individuals through the abuse of their authority or the concocting of fictitious land tenants.

Chitwan District Court Judge Binod Gautam has also been named as a defendant in his capacity as a former government undersecretary, and Basnyat as former secretary of the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure. Gachhadar was the line minister and Basnyat the secretary at that ministry when they decided to register the land in the names of various individuals and fake tenants.

Businessmen Shobhakanta Dhakal, Ram Kumar Subedi and Min Bahadur Gurung are likewise named as defendants. Those who are still in public office are automatically suspended from their duties upon the anti-graft body filing the case.

During the Panchayat regime, the government had seized 14 ropani of Lalita Niwas land belonging to Nepali Congress leader Subarna Sumsher Rana after implicating him in a charge of sedition. It also acquired 285 ropani of the land in 1964. Lalita Niwas was acquired by the government after paying due compensation to the owners. But the land was returned to Rana’s family and their tenants following the restoration of democracy in 1990 in an illegal manner. 

Some of the defendants, who claim to be rightful heirs to the land, have filed court cases, while some others went to the government authorities including the line ministry, demanding their land back. 

Some plots of the land were registered in the names of leaders of the ruling parities and the rest were registered in the names of the other influentials, including businesspersons. These have also been charge-sheeted.

In its charge-sheet, the CIAA has sought a court order to retrieve the land and impose fines of Rs 392 million on businessman Gurung; Rs 525 million on Subedi; Rs 392 million on Dhakal and millions more on various other individuals misusing their authority when in office in different capacities.

The businessmen are also accused of unduly influencing the authorities to endorse wrongful decisions. 

Similarly, the anti-graft body has sought Rs 82 million from Rukma Sumsher Rana; Rs 13.5 million from Hatak Sumsher Rana; Rs 13.5 million from Heman Sumsher Rana; Rs 8.6  million from Sunita Rana; Rs 9.6 million from Suniti Rana and Rs 9.6 million from Sailaja Rana for getting the land registered in their names illegally. The CIAA likewise has prosecuted Kailash Chandra Goyal of DL Developers, seeking a court order to recover the land registered in its name and impose a Rs 5.44 million fine.

Various guthi administrators, land revenue officials and other staff including Kaladhar Deuja, Semanta Raj Chapagain, Dilip Bhatta, Rameshwar Bidari and then director general of the Department of Land Revenue Ashok Nath Upreti are also among those named in the charge-sheet. Millions in fines have been sought from them also.

The government had earlier directed the CIAA and the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) of Nepal Police to investigate the case after it came to light that the ownership of a total of 114 ropani [14.33 acres] belonging to Lalita Niwas was illegally registered in the names of sundry individuals. A probe committee formed under former secretary Sharada Prasad Trital had first disclosed that the ownership of the land was transferred with the involvement of a then prime minister, ministers, secretaries and officials at the land revenue and survey offices in Kathmandu.

CIAA slaps Bhatbhateni owner Gurung with a fine of over Rs 500 million
The Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) on Wednesday filed the charge sheet seeking a cash fine of over Rs 500 million from Min Bahadur Gurung, chairman of Bhatbhateni Development Company Pvt Ltd, on the charge of embezzling controversial land at Lalita Niwas, Baluwatar. The CIAA has assessed the amount in illegal transaction at Rs 392.76 million for purposes of penalising Gurung an equal amount. The anti-graft body has sought to confiscate the land plot acquired by Gurung. Gurung was found to have created a fake tenant for the Unau Trust to register the land in the name of family members. In its press release, the CIAA has accused Gurung of breaching the provisions of The Prevention of Corruption Act 2002 for personal benefit and incurring a direct loss to the government. In a separate case, the CIAA has also sought to recover Rs 112 million from Gurung on the charge of acquiring public land by unduly influencing government officials. He has been accused of bribing officials including those from the Survey Department to prepare a fake report on land measurement. 

No corruption case against two former prime ministers
The anti-graft body did not file corruption cases against former prime ministers Madhav Kumar Nepal and Baburam Bhattarai, though cabinet level decisions were taken during their tenures to legalize the transfer of government land to individuals. The CIAA has said that cabinet decisions do not fall within its jurisdiction.

NCP General Secretary Paudel and Kumar Regmi provided clean chits
The CIAA did not charge-sheet Nabin Paudel and Kumar Regmi, saying they were ready to return the land to the government. Nabin Paudel is the son of ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) General Secretary Bishnu Paudel. He had purchased 8 ana of the land on his own name when he was still a minor. Also, the CIAA did not file case against the Supreme Court Justice Kumar Regmi on the ground that he was ready to return the land involved to the government.

CIAA demands seizure of Lalita Niwas land from private individuals
The CIAA in its charge sheet filed at the Special Court on Wednesday has sought the land currently owned by various 65 individuals as well as organizations including the Non-Resident Nepali Associations (NRNA) returned to the government. Although the individuals and organizations were not found involved in corruption as per the Corruption Control Act 2059 BS, the CIAA in its charge sheet has demanded seizure of their lands as per the clauses 8(4) and 47 since the individuals and organizations reportedly refused to return the land during interrogations by the CIAA. But ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) General Secretary Bishnu Paudel and former Supreme Court Justice Kumar Regmi had agreed to return the land in their ownership to the government during their interrogation with the CIAA. 

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