Most defendants in Baluwatar case have been released either on bail or general datesFormer Deputy Prime Minister Gachhadar and key middlemen including Ram Kumar Subedi and Sobha Kanta Dhakal are yet to present themselves to the court.
The Special Court has released most of the defendants in the Baluwatar land scam case either on bail or on general dates.
According to the court, it has so far heard 100 of the 175 defendants implicated in the case by the Commission for Investigation for Abuse of Authority in February this year.
“The court has so far sent two defendents into judicial custody including Deep Basnyat, former chief commissioner of the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority, and Krishna Prasad Poudel, former staff member at the Dillibazar-based land revenue office. Others were either released on bail or on general dates,” said Pushpa Raj Pandeya, spokesperson for the Special Court.
Former chairperson of the Special Court Gauri Bahadur Karki said the Special Court did the right thing by sending Basnyat to judicial custody considering his track record and his position of power that he allegedly abused.
“Such a decision is necessary to make an example,” he told the Post. “Even though Basnyat can move the Supreme Court, it will be hard for the Supreme Court to overturn the order of the Special Court considering the impression such a decision would have among the public about the Supreme Court.”
On Sunday, Special Court Chairperson Prem Raj Karki and the judge duo, Abdul Aziz Musalman and Nitya Nanda Pandeya, passed down the order to send Basnyat to judicial custody.
The bench said that Basnyat had to be sent to judicial custody as he admitted to having prepared and taken proposal of expanding the area of Prime Minister’s residence to the Cabinet after securing approval of the then deputy prime minister Bijaya Kumar Gachhadar.
Basnyat was secretary at the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure at the time. He now stands accused of creating fake tenants to distribute the government-owned land in Baluwatar to private individuals.
Earlier this year, Poudel, the former staff member at Dillibazar land revenue office, was also sent to judicial custody in connection to the case.
According to Bipin Adhikari, former dean of Kathmandu University School of Law, the court usually does not send anybody into judicial custody as long as the courts sees the possibility that the defendants could destroy evidence, threaten their victims, or run away.
Although the Special Court sent Basnyat and Poudel to judicial custody, it issued conditional release orders in case of former ministers Dambar Shrestha, Chabbi Raj Pant and Chandra Dev Joshi.
Shrestha and Pant were released on bail while Joshi was released on a general date.
Considering the decision taken by the Cabinet based on Shrestha’s proposal, the court had sought Rs500,000 as bail to release him. An equal amount in bail was sought from former Pant.
The Special Court had released Joshi on general date last month citing his age of 83 years, weak physical condition, weak financial condition and the risk of Covid-19.
“I don’t know on what basis the court passed its order in the case of defendants charged in the Baluwatar land scam,” Adhikari, the former dean of Kathmandu University, said, noting that many of the accused had not even been tried yet.
Gachchhadar, the former deputy prime minister; Rukma Shumsher Rana, son of late Nepali Congress leader Subarna Shumsher Rana; Min Bahadur Gurung, the owner of Bhatbhateni Supermarket; and Ram Kumar Subedi and Sobha Kanta Dhakal, the alleged middlemen in the case, are yet to present themselves before the court.
“We have sent dates for their presence at the court through the district courts concerned,” said Pandeya, the Special Court spokesperson.
Anti-corruption campaigners argue that it is essential that the court acts tough against those involved in major corruption scandals to deter other corrupt people.
Khem Raj Regmi, president of Transparency International, Nepal, an anti-corruption advocacy group, said that it is necessary to send serious offenders to judicial custody.
“I don’t know on what basis orders were passed in the case of the defendants in the Baluwatar land scam. I hope the court might have used its wisdom correctly,” he said.