Statute of limitations for filing corruption cases may promote graft, experts sayThe government has registered a new bill with the provision at the National Assembly Secretariat.
The government has prepared a new bill with the provision of statute of limitations for filing corruption cases, which experts say could give rise to corruption.
According to the bill registered at the National Assembly Secretariat, a corruption case should be filed within five years since it is known that somebody committed corruption.
The current Corruption Prevention Act does not have the statute of limitations, allowing the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority to probe and file a case any time.
The provision in the bill, according to the experts, would make it easier for many politicians and influential public officials to shield themselves from being prosecuted on a corruption charge.
“This is a regressive move of the government. The provision was made to shield the corrupt people from being prosecuted,” said Gauri Bahadur Karki, former chairman of Special Court, which is the first court to look into corruption cases. “The Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority hardly files cases against politicians and influential people who are in power. They may influence the commission not to file a case for five years since the alleged corruption took place.”
If it becomes a law in its current form, it will have an immediate impact on a number of investigations being undertaken by the commission, but where a case has not been filed.
For example, the commission cannot file cases against former senior Maoist party leaders, many of them now in the ruling Nepal Communist Party, for alleged corruption related to the funds provided by the government for ex-Maoist combatants housed in different cantonments across the country.
The government had initially provided a monthly allowance of Rs3,000 for the combatants, which was later increased to Rs5000 per month by the then Madhav Nepal-led government. Later, the Baburam Bhattarai-led government increased the amount to Rs8,000 per month.
In its initial count, the United Nations Mission in Nepal had registered a total of 30,852 former Maoist combatants. The government disbursed funds based on this number for over four years. Later, 4,008 combatants were disqualified by the UN, bringing the number of former combatants in cantonments down to 26,844. In a recount done immediately, it was found that there were only 24,412 former combatants.
Yet, the then Maoist leadership had continued to draw allowances for the nonexistent combatants. It is estimated that a total of Rs1.34 billion was disbursed for the upkeep of absentee combatants. Nepal Communist Party Co-chairman Puspa Kamal Dahal and Samajwadi Party Nepal Federal Council Chairperson Baburam Bhattarai, among others, have been accused of corruption in the scandal.
As the commission is yet to file corruption cases related to this scandal, the proposed bill, if it becomes a law, will disqualify any corruption case filed in the scandal.
Experts say many people who have been involved in transferring the government’s land at Baluwatar in the name of fake tenants may not face charges if the proposed bill with the statute of limitations becomes law. Although the Commission initiated an investigation in the scandal recently, the provision in the bill that the case should be filed within five years since the alleged corruption got known, may be interpreted differently.
If the court adheres to the defendant’s explanation, many people alleged to have committed corruption in the Baluwatar land scandal could get a clean chit on the basis of statute of limitations.
"For example, the former chief commissioner of the anti-graft body, Deep Basnyat, who is under investigation for his alleged role in transferring land at Baluwatar in the name of fake tenants, could also walk free without being charged,” said Karki.
As secretary of the Physical Infrastructure Ministry, Basnyat has been accused of taking a proposal of providing tenant rights to fake tenants while expanding the area covered by the prime minister’s residence in April 2010. The commission has already taken his statement on the alleged scandal, but is yet to file a case.
Even in the past, the Special Court had given a clean chit to a number of politicians and bureaucrats citing the provision of the one-year statute of limitations in the Corruption Prevention Act-2017.
A group of Special Court Judges, led by Chairman Bhoopdhwoj Adhikari, had acquitted former ministers, Jaya Prakash Gupta and Govinda Raj Joshi, former Minister Rabindra Nath Sharma, former IGP duo Moti Lal Bohara and Achuyt Krishna Kharel, former government secretary Padma Prasad Pokharel and Chakra Bandhu Aryal and a former joint-secretary, Sabitri Rajbhandari, among others.
But, later, the Supreme Court in 2009 ruled that the statute of limitations does not apply in a corruption case. It had opened the doors for taking action against the politicians and government officials who were acquitted by the Special Court on the grounds of statute of limitations.
The Special Court then re-opened a number of cases where it had earlier acquitted defendants on the grounds of statute of limitations. The Special Court, led by Karki, had convicted ex-minister Joshi, former secretary Pokharel, and former joint-secretary Rajbhandari, among others, in retrial.
Despite such history, the Oli administration is once again reviving the statute of limitations in the bill.
"The revival of statute of limitations should be taken in light of the recent controversial decision of the government, which may be investigated in the future,” said Srihari Aryal, senior advocate and former president of Transparency International, Nepal. “This is part of the game to keep politicians and their associates from being prosecuted in the future.”
Aryal said that in a country like Nepal where corruption is rife and a prosecuting agency cannot work independently, the provision of statute of limitations will be disastrous in terms of controlling corruption. “The ruling party leaders usually avoid prosecution when they are in power. So, they will have ample space to avoid prosecution on the grounds of statute of limitations,” he added.