Anti-graft body had relied on inconclusive video evidence to file case against a junior civil servant who committed suicideThe Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority did not produce any witnesses in court though it claimed in the chargesheet that witnesses had vouched that Rs 1,000 had changed hands.
The video image showed Krishna Prasad Ghimire put his hand inside the trouser pocket of Ramhari Subedi, a non-gazetted officer at the Land Revenue Office, Kalanki, Kathmandu.
That was all the evidence that the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority produced in court in a corruption case filed against the two claiming that Ghimire had put all of Rs1,000 in Subedi’s pocket.
According to the charge-sheet filed on September 16, 2019, Ghimire, a paralegal who prepares documents during land deals, had gone to the Land Revenue Office with regard to some work related to his own property, and to expedite the work he had given Subedi Rs1,000.
Ten months after the case was filed, the Special Court on July 14 ruled that the evidence was insufficient to convict either of them.
The full text of the verdict was too late for the non-gazetted civil servant.
He committed suicide on September 23, 2019, a week after the case was filed.
The commission had filed the case, more than 40 days after Subedi had been taken into custody on charges of corruption.
The anti-corruption watchdog had produced statements from Subedi and Ghimire admitting that money had changed hands but in court the two defendants denied this charge.
On the third page of the charge-sheet, the commission had claimed there were witnesses who saw Ghimire giving the amount to Subedi.
The court verdict, however, said the commission failed to produce any witnesses who confirmed in writing that there had in fact been an exchange of money between the two.
The Special Court ruled that there appeared to be some “give and take”, according to the CCTV footage, but it was inconclusive whether Ghimire had given Rs1,000 to Subedi.
Ghimire had told the court that he had given Subedi just Rs500 to get documents photocopied. Ghimire even produced a witness—Tanka Raj Sapkota—who said Ghimire didn’t give any bribe to Subedi.
“Therefore, based on Ghimire’s statement that he had given Rs500 to Subedi for the purpose of photocopying documents, the defendants cannot be convicted for a serious crime like corruption,” the court verdict says.
The Special Court has also referred to the principle the Supreme Court established to convict somebody for corruption. This principle states, “There must be direct, result-oriented and reliable evidence that proves that the defendant has benefited oneself or any other person illegally, in a manner beyond doubt.”
In its charge-sheet, the commission had claimed that Ghimire had stated during the commission's inquiry that he had bribed Subedi so that he would look at the related documents regarding his property at the earliest.
The court verdict, however, says that the anti-graft body failed to produce any evidence from the Land Revenue Office that there had been any sale or purchase of land that involved Ghimire, as claimed by the commission.
“Therefore there is no situation where Ghimire was required to pay a bribe to Subedi,” the verdict says.
As per Section 3 (3) of the Corruption Prevention Act-2002, there should be evidence that Subedi had taken money from Ghimire for performing some work designed to favour Ghimire, which according to the court verdict, has not been proved.
Citing these factors, the court acquitted both Ghimire and Subedi.
In the case of Subedi, the court also scrapped the case against him after Subedi’s wife provided evidence that he had already died.
As per 133 (1) of the Criminal Procedure (Code) Act-2017, any case against a defendant who dies before the court verdict, must be scrapped.
“This case shows that the commission has misused its power disproportionately against Subedi by taking him in custody for so many days and eventually filing the corruption case which led to his suicide,” said Om Prakash Aryal, an advocate who played a crucial role in bringing down the reign of Lok Man Singh Karki in the anti-graft body.
Lok Man Singh Karki was appointed chief commissioner of the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority in 2013 despite protests, with the support of all political parties even as he lacked the qualifications required to head the constitutional body. The Supreme Court eventually disqualified Karki as the anti-graft agency chief after Aryal petitioned the court.
“In many large-scale corruption cases, the commission has either not taken the accused into custody or taken them in custody for only a short period of time and this is evidence that its misguided focus is to threaten lower level government staff,” said Aryal.
The suicide of a civil servant charged with taking a bribe of Rs1,000 and subsequent acquittal by the court comes at a time when voices are being raised that the anti-corruption commission has been lenient on cases involving politicians while its spends its time and energy on petty cases involving small amounts.
“The commission cannot prove its significance by only increasing the number of cases every year while just focusing on small ones,” said Srihari Aryal, a senior advocate and former chairperson of the Nepal chapter of Transparency International, an anti-corruption advocacy group headquartered in Berlin. “It will be judged based on whether it takes any action on big cases that are politically connected.”
The commission has been criticised for recently ignoring scandals involving Gokul Baskota, former minister for communications and information technology, and land purchase deals by the Nepal Oil Corporation.
Baskota was caught on tape negotiating Rs700 million bribe with a local agent of an international firm attempting to set up a security printing press in Nepal while he was a minister. Baskota resigned after the tape was leaked.
According to a report by Kantipur, the Post’s sister paper, the commission is preparing to exonerate Baskota, a close confidante of Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli.
There have also been reports of the commission suspending its investigation on a multi-million rupee land purchase deal, where officials were accused of purchasing land at highly inflated prices in different parts of the country to build oil storage facilities.
“Due to the commission’s disproportionate action against lower level government employees and lenient attitude towards large-scale corruption scandals involving political leaders, questions of legitimacy of the commission have arisen,” said Aryal. “This may lead to civil disobedience in the future against the commission.”