KATHMANDU, Feb 7: After the CIAA filed a corruption case dragging influential politicians into the Lalita Niwas land scam, experts have raised questions over the anti-graft body’s investigation procedures as some high-profile individuals allegedly connected to the scam were let off the hook.
The anti-graft watchdog is facing widespread criticism as two of the accused—Navin Paudel, son of ruling Nepal Communist Party General Secretary Bishnu Paudel, and Supreme Court Justice Kumar Regmi—were not charge-sheeted. Similarly, the CIAA recorded the statements of former prime ministers Madhav Kumar Nepal and Baburam Bhattarai, but it did not implicate them in the scam.
In its charge-sheet, the CIAA has stated that it did not name Paudel Junior and Regmi as defendants in the case as both of them agreed to return the disputed plots of Lalita Niwas land and filed applications at the CIAA agreeing to assist in the investigations.
NCP General Secretary Paudel is seen as one of the influencers in registering Lalita land as private property. Justice Regmi, a law practitioner at the time, had received a plot of the land as “advocacy fee” whereas Paudel bought eight ana of the land at way below market price when it was being plotted up and sold off by the land mafias acting in collision with some bureaucrats. Many believe both Paudel and Regmi were involved as “power brokers” in helping register the public land as private properties.
“The CIAA did a good job in filing a corruption case against individuals connected to the high-profile land scam,” said former CIAA chief Suryanath Upadhyay, adding, “But they should have studied the circumstantial evidence also in case of those not dragged to court. I wish they had done so.”
Upadhyay said the investigators should have elaborated on the circumstantial evidence in the charge-sheet. “One shouldn’t be spared just because you returned the land. Whether the accused bought the controversial land knowingly or unknowingly should be analyzed.”
Sixty-five individuals who bought Lalita Niwas land are named as defendants. But not Paudel or Regmi.
Apart from them, former prime ministers Nepal and Bhattarai, who were in office at the time, are also not implicated in the scam. The anti-graft body argues that it is not mandated to investigate decisions taken by the cabinet. So the prime minsiters who endorsed ministerial decisions to register public land as private property and gave the nod to fake owners are likewise off the hook.
However, three former ministers for physical planning and infrastructure — Bijaya Kumar Gachchhadar, Dambar Shrestha and Chandra Dev Joshi -- have not been spared.
“In not roping in some powerful individuals the CIAA has opened itself to accusations of granting undue favor to some,” said Khemraj Regmi, president of Transparency International Nepal. “So far, we have not heard any convincing argument why some people close to the ruling party were not prosecuted,” he added. “It has raised serious question over the CIAA investigations.”
Regmi said even the former prime ministers should have been charge-sheeted. He further argued that the decision relating to registering government land as private property was not a policy-related decision. “The CIAA Act has empowered the watchdog body to take action against even cabinet decisions if these are not related to policy-making,” he pointed out.