KATHMANDU, Feb 9: Every time, in Nepal, when the head of the executive is spared when high-profile corruption cases are filed at the court, the anti-graft body faces criticism from media and civil society leaders. Be it the Lauda scam or Sudan scam or the more recent Lalita Niwas land scam, the head of government has never been booked for their alleged involvement.
The then prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala was interrogated in connection with the Lauda scam. But he was never implicated in the scam although other government officials faced corruption charges at the court. So was the case of the Sudan scam.
Ministers holding the home ministry portfolio in post-2006 People’s Movement were accused of embezzling about Rs 290 million from the state coffers while procuring Armored Personnel Carriers and other logistics for Nepali Peacekeepers deployed in Darfur, Sudan. The anti-graft body, the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority, didn’t file corruption cases against any of the home ministers — Krishna Sitaula, Bamdev Gautam and Bhim Rawal — arguing that the evidences couldn’t be established against them.
Similarly, none of the heads of the government were questioned about their involvement when the multi-million rupees Sudan scam was investigated. Dozens of senior police officials including the then sitting Inspector General of Police including Ramesh Chanda Thakuri, however, were dragged to the court and later the court convicted them for embezzlement.
This time too, CIAA is being criticized for not implicating the then PMs while filing the Lalita Niwas land grab case whereas all ministers and secretaries who worked at the physical planning and infrastructure ministry when the land scam occurred have been implicated in the multi-billion rupee land scam.
As the anti-graft body dragged 175 accused in the scam to the court, none of the then prime ministers—Madhav Kumar Nepal and Baburam Bhattarai--who were leading the governments when the government land was transferred as private property have been implicated.
The CIAA didn’t implicate any of the former PMs in the land scam even after recording their statements.
In the charge-sheet of the Lalita Niwas land scam, CIAA Spokesperson Pradeep Kumar Koirala argued the anti-graft body was not able to file cases against the then PMs as the law doesn’t mandate them to investigate the decisions made by the Cabinet.
Experts, however, say the argument was just an excuse practiced for long. “Due to the lack of capable and impartial commissioners at the CIAA, the chief executives have been enjoying immunity for long,” said former chairman of Special Court, Gauri Bahadur Karki, adding, “If I were the CIAA chief, I wouldn’t let any former prime minister away.”
Arguing that transferring the ownership of public land to the land mafia was not a policy decision and the CIAA can investigate even Cabinet decisions unless they are policy decisions.
“Yet, if there is a need for revising the anti-corruption laws, why they have not changed them till now,” said Karki, “One thing is clear, politicians never want to change the law if the change harms them. Secondly, the chief of an anti-corruption agency like CIAA never prosecutes influential politicians mainly when he is close to the ruling party or loyal to the power centers.”
Karki, who had successfully settled the Sudan scam in his capacity as the Special Court chief, said the way the CIAA didn’t file a corruption case against Navin Paudel, the son of ruling Nepal Communist Party General Secretary Bishnu Paudel, and Supreme Court Justice Kumar Regmi — for returning the land they had purchased from the land mafia at low price will affect the case in the long run.
Shortly after the CIAA filed the case at the court, Poudel Junior returned the land he had purchased and it has already been registered as government land.