Court seeks copies of Cabinet decisions made during Madhav Nepal and Baburam Bhattarai’s tenures in relation to Lalita Niwas land transfersThe two former prime ministers are among a number of key people spared by the anti-graft body which last year filed corruption cases against 175 individuals, including three former ministers.
The Supreme Court has sought copies of the Cabinet decisions taken during the tenures of former prime ministers Madhav Kumar Nepal and Baburam Bhattarai with regards to land transfers of Lalita Niwas in Baluwatar.
Justices Anil Kumar Sinha and Hari Phuyal ordered on Monday that the copies of the Cabinet decisions and other relevant documents, including the proposals that were made in relation to the transfer of government lands of Baluwatar in the name of private individuals, be presented before the court.
The court was responding to a writ filed by advocate Balkrishna Neupane, who has made the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority one of the defendants.
Neupane had filed the case on February 10 last year.
The court has asked authorities to present the copies of the Cabinet decisions taken on April 11, 2010, May 14, 2010, April 13, 2010 and October 4, 2012 and other documents through the Office of the Attorney General.
Nepal was prime minister from May 25, 2009 to February 6, 2011.
Similarly, Bhattarai was prime minister from August 29, 2011 to March 14, 2013.
The anti-corruption commission, however, spared a number of key people, including former prime ministers Nepal and Bhattarai. The commission did not initiate action against Nepal and Bhattarai, saying even though the decisions to illegally transfer the government land into private hands were taken during their tenures, the decisions constituted “policy decisions”, which the commission cannot look into.
After the court sought the copies of the decision, the court is expected to explain whether those Cabinet decisions were “policy decisions.”
“If the court does not recognise those as Cabinet decisions as policy decisions, it will open the door to the commission to prosecute even Nepal and Bhattarai,” said Neupane.
Nuepane said he had claimed in the writ that the decision to give the government land to any individual could not be categorized as a “policy decision” of the Cabinet and the decision should not be immune from investigation by the anti-graft body.
“I had also claimed that the commission filed a case against some lower ranked politicians and officials allegedly involved in the scandal but those involved in real decision making didn’t face prosecution,” he said. “Higher political authority cannot escape the blame under the cover of policy decisions while lower-ranked officials are prosecuted for the same crime.”
The sword of the possible prosecution is now hanging over Nepal’s head at a time when he has been weakened in the CPN-UML, with Oli tightening the noose around him.
On Monday, the UML suspended Nepal and Bhim Rawal as members of the party for six months.
Surya Nath Upadhyay, former chief commissioner at the anti-graft agency, said whether Nepal and Bhattarai would be subject to prosecution would depend on the Supreme Court’s explanation whether those Cabinet decisions were “policy decisions”.
“Even if the court makes it clear that those Cabinet decisions were not policy decisions, the commission should prove there has been corruption because of those decisions,” Upadhyay told the Post.
According to Upadhyay, the charge-sheet filed by the commission against 175 people is not strong enough.
“If the commission has established that there has been collusion in the land deals of Baluwater, that would have enhanced credibility of the case,” he said.
Before the commission initiated its investigation, a series of media reports pointed out how the “land mafia” conspired with public officials to convert state property at Lalita Niwas, around the prime minister’s residence in Baluwatar, into the personal assets of a number of private individuals. The incident then got the name “Lalita Niwas land scam.”
The scam was initially unearthed by a probe committee led by former secretary Sharada Prasad Trital and the case was pursued by the Central Investigation Bureau of the Nepal Police, before the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority moved the Special Court.
Former deputy prime minister and minister for physical infrastructure and transport Bijay Kumar Gachhadar, and two former land reforms ministers Dambar Shrestha and Chandra Dev Joshi, along with three former government secretaries were among those facing corruption charges over the illegal transfer of government land.
Nabin Poudel, son of Bishnu Poudel, who is currently the finance minister, and Supreme Court Justice Kumar Regmi were also spared on the grounds that they agreed to return the plots.