Suspected suicides by people under graft probe highlight need to revamp investigation processAnti-corruption activists say the corrupt should not be spared, but agencies should be careful while filing charges and making the names public.
While corruption has thrived in Nepal for decades, impunity has been the order of the day. But in recent weeks, deaths of two former government officials—which are said to be suicide cases—have put a spotlight on the way corruption cases are dealt with in the country.
Experts say while no corrupt officials should be spared, every single case should be proceeded with great care, as the accused, who can be pronounced guilty or innocent only by the court of law, can come under immense social pressure.
Yukta Prasad Shrestha and Ram Bahadur Pandey, two former government employees who were being investigated by the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority, were found dead last month.
The anti-graft body was interrogating Shrestha over his role in ownership transfer of the land belonging to Lalita Niwas at Baluwatar in the name of individuals when he was a non-gazetted third class officer at the Dillibazar Land Revenue Office. Pandey was one of the defendants in a corruption case filed by the anti-graft agency against 10 officials of Tribhuvan University for tampering with the scores of examinees for job at the university.
According to police, Shrestha is suspected to have jumped off the eighth floor of the Balaju-based Himalaya City Centre on July 28. Police are still looking into the case. Pandey is suspected to have jumped off a building in Tripureshwor on July 19.
After retiring from government service, Shrestha was involved in politics and social service. He was the Parbat district secretary of the Nepali Congress. Shrestha had joined Lions Club, a social organisation, in 2002, and served as district governor of the Lions Club International several years ago, according to the website of the Lions Club.
He was also involved in various social activities, according to Arjun Joshi, a central committee member of the Nepali Congress, who is also from Parbat.
Joshi said he had not seen any signs of stress in Shrestha before his death. “Shrestha had told me he had facilitated an early transfer of ownership to implement the Cabinet decision as it was the land connected with the late Subarna Sumsher Rana, a respected leader of the Nepali Congress,” said Joshi.
Joshi believes Shrestha came under immense social pressure after being accused of corruption. Shrestha was only being interrogated; he was not even charged by the anti-graft agency in court.
Anti-corruption activists say corrupt people should face penalty—fine and jail terms as per the law—but the agencies probing corruption cases should also make sure that they have solid proof against the individuals in question.
“Society’s behavior towards people accused or convicted in a corruption case changes overnight, which may have a deep psychological effect on them,” said Khem Raj Regmi, president of Transparency International Nepal, a non-government organisation working against corruption.
But in order to discourage any untoward move from the suspect(s), Regmi said, the anti-graft agency should keep the names of the accused until there is credible evidence against the individuals.
Surendra Man Pradhan, former executive director of Nepal Rastra Bank who got a clean chit along with former central bank governor Bijaya Nath Bhattarai from the Supreme Court, lived with undesired tension after the anti-graft agency charged him with corruption in June 2007.
Pradhan and Bhattarai were accused of causing a loss of Rs30 million to the central bank during the appointment of KPMG, Sri Lanka, as a consultant under the Financial Sector Reform Programme. But the contract was later terminated.
Citing malicious intent while filing the corruption charge, central bank employees had backed the duo publicly during the court hearing.
“The corruption case obviously caused a lot of tension for me but it didn’t affect my status in society because people knew me personally,” Pradhan told the Post. “Backing of the entire central employees also helped me keep peace of mind.”
While corruption allegations can create immense psychological pressure, police do not have the exact data on people committing suicide because they were charged with wrongdoings.
In the fiscal year 2018-19, as many 5,155 people—nearly 15 people each day— committed sucide, according to Nepal Police.
In the past three years, more than 5,000 people have committed sucide each year, according to police. But the authorities could not confirm whether anybody committed soucide after being accused of corruption.
“Police reporting about the status of dead body and incident sites don’t mention the background of the person who commits sucide,” said Nepal Police spokesperson Bishwaraj Pokharel. “So it is difficult to conclude if anyone committed suicide for being accused of corruption.”
But, he said, if somebody is in the public eye for being accused of corruption or any other criminal charges, such charges come into the spotlight along with sucide.
For instance, a loader of Nepal Airlines Corporation committed sucide in the toilet in police custody in April last year during an investigation over his role in the smuggling of 33kg gold, which had gone missing after being smuggled to Kathmandu.
Premlal Chaudhary, who allegedly hanged himself using his trousers in the toilet of the custody room of Metropolitan Police Circle, Singha Durbar, worked as the head loader at Tribhuvan International Airport for the Nepal Airlines Corporation.
In June 2014, Shiva Prasad Pokharel, a non-gazetted officer at the Dillibazaar Land Revenue Office, allegedly committed suicide by jumping off a six-storied house at Kaushaltar in Bhaktapur after the anti-graft agency started a probe into his alleged involvement in financial irregularities.
He was accused of receiving Rs100,000 in bribe for registering a plot of land in the name of Desh Bahadur Limbu, a local of Sakhuwa in Dhankuta, while he worked at the Dhankuta District Land Revenue Office.
But the most high profile sucide of a government employee took place in June 2005 after the then Royal Commission for Corruption Control conducted investigation into Dinesh Chandra Pyakuryal’s property, a former government secretary.
Those advocating good governance say there is a need to intensify the fight against corruption and authorities should keep “innocent until proven guilty” at the centre while probing cases of irregularities.
Social boycott is something that corruption convicts should face, according to Regmi, who stressed the need for eradicating the culture of impunity.
“It is better for an investigating agency like the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority to make the name of the accused public only after there is credible evidence against him or her,” Regmi told the Post. “During our recent meeting, we had requested the chief commissioner for the same.”