CIAA under the spotlightThis past year, the national anti-graft body was in the news quite a bit—for all the wrong reasons.
Prithvi Man Shrestha
Ever since Lokman Singh Karki was ousted after being declared unfit to hold the position of chief commissioner of the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority by the Supreme Court in early 2017, the anti-graft body has been embroiled in one controversy after the other regarding its corrupt staff. And 2019 was no different.
The way Karki, an already controversial figure, abused power made national headlines, and the incident reflected badly on the body—heavily damaging its credibility and integrity.
Prior to Karki’s episode, another commissioner who got embroiled in controversy was Lalit Bahadur Limbu, who landed himself in the spot for filing a corruption case against then Nepal Rastra Bank Governor Bijayanath Bhattarai on June 29, 2007. After the case was filed, several phone calls between Limbu and a businessman who had direct interest in the filing of the corruption case against Bhattarai, were exposed. The commission plunged into further controversy in 2019 after a number of corruption scandals were exposed at the hands of other officer bearers and staff of the commission. Here’s a round off of the biggest scandals surrounding the CIAA in 2019:
Raj Narayan Pathak and his Rs7.8 million bribe
Raj Narayan Pathak, as a sitting commissioner of the commission, got embroiled in a graft scandal, which forced him to resign from the post. Eventually, on March 26, the anti-graft body filed a corruption case at the Special Court against Pathak, on the charge of accepting a bribe of Rs7.8 million “to settle” an ownership dispute at a Bhaktapur-based college.
It was the first-ever case where an officer bearer of the anti-graft body faced a corruption case. In exposed audios and videos, Pathak was seen to have admitted that he had received the bribe to settle the dispute over ownership of the Changunarayan-based Nepal Engineering College.
This is how the scandal unfolded: After a group led by Lambodar Kumar Neupane, one of the board of directors of the college, sought to privatise the community college by registering another company with the same name and bringing all the properties of community college under it, another group filed a complaint at the anti-graft body against the attempt to capture the property of the college.
Instead of taking action against the wrongdoers, Pathak came under the influence of the group led by Neupane to settle the dispute in their name. As per the exposed videos, Pathak received the Rs7.8 million bribe from Neupane’s group through Gyanendra Kumar Jha but he failed to act as per their interest.
The group then sought the money back, which he didn’t return. Jha then used Dhwojman Moktan, his friend, to secretly record Pathak’s statement of admitting that he had received the graft from Neupane.
After the audio and videos regarding the scandals were exposed, Pathak was forced to resign. Subsequently, the anti-graft body itself filed a corruption case against him.
In the past, Pathak had been embroiled in a controversy for intervening in an entrance exam at Kathmandu University.
A string of corruption cases followed Deep Basnyat
Another controversy surrounding the CIAA this past year was in relation to Deep Basnyat, a former Chief Commissioner of the anti-graft body. The commission is reportedly preparing to file a case against Basnyat, among others, over his role in transferring the land at Lalita Niwas in Baluwatar to fake tenants, while he a secretary at the Physical Infrastructure Ministry in 2010.
But many are concerned whether the Commission will actually file a case against the corrupt, as many heavyweight politicians too have been involved in the decision-making process.
Basnyat is also under investigation for amassing properties illegally, according to a commission official. He has also come under the spotlight after the Department of Money Laundering Investigation said that it was investigating him for allegedly transferring assets illegally accumulated to foreign countries by freezing his properties.
One official involved in the probe at the department also told the Post that the department had received several complaints against Basnyat after the investigation was initiated against him. “We have received complaints of Basnyat taking bribes from people by asking his own men to register a fake complaint during his tenure at the commission,” the official said.
Basnyat is also facing accusations of using his power as Commission Chief to rent out his home to an office of the Department of Roads. Questions have also been raised about his role in suspending a number of corruption investigation cases on a number of politicians and bureaucrats.
Under his leadership, probes on Nepali Congress lawmaker Mohamad Aftab Alam, who is now in jail for his role in suspected mass murder in Rautahat a day before the 2008 Constituent Assembly elections; on former minister Chhabiraj Pant, who is also facing corruption investigation on the Lalita Niwas scam; lawmakers Ichchharaj Tamang; Umesh Shrestha; Janardan Dhakal; and Baburam Pokhrel, among others had been suspended—all of which have questioned his integrity.
Former staff of commission faces corruption inquiry
Home Ministry suspended its under secretary Khagendra Prasad Rijal for alleged corruption, as per the request of the Commission in December. Rijal previously has served at the anti-graft body.
Rijal had been accused of abusing his power as the Chief District Officer of Dolakha by demanding money and threatening two individuals: Ram Naresh Yadav, a senior health assistant at Lamabagar Health Post, who is also serving as a ward secretary at Bigu Rural Municipality-1, and Raju Shrestha, office secretary at the same ward.
Rijal served at the anti-graft body for around three years, from 2014 to 2017. While in office, he looked into investigations of fake academic certificates and was also the information officer. His track record at the anti-graft body is also reportedly not clean. “He was forced out of the commission after complaints were registered that he had been taking bribes from fake certificate holders and giving them a clean chit,” a senior official at the anti-graft body told the Post.
Rijal’s alleged involvement in irregularities came to the fore at a time when the commission itself was struggling to improve its image and maintain its credibility following allegations against a number of officials being embroiled in corruption scandals.
Commision files case against own staff
The Commission in March filed a corruption case at the Special Court against its own employee—Assistant Sub-Inspector Janma Adhikari who was caught red-handed receiving bribe in January.
Adhikari, employed at the commission’s Surkhet branch, was caught accepting Rs100,000 as a bribe for settling a complaint registered at the anti-graft body over alleged corruption in a road project.