Probe panel yet to find CCTV footage of the time when tax rates were tweakedMembers say they are in the process of grilling officials as part of their investigation.
A parliamentary committee formed to investigate charges that Janardan Sharma, as finance minister, allowed two unauthorised persons to tweak tax rates has received the hard drive but yet to find the footage it was looking for.
The committee had sought the CCTV footage of the night of May 28, the time when Sharma allegedly invited two outsiders to the Finance Ministry.
Sharma stepped down on July 6, the day the parliamentary committee was formed to probe charges against him.
The Finance Ministry said on July 3 that the CCTV footage of the night of May 28 got erased as the system could store only 13 days of recording. It was viewed as Sharma’s attempt to destroy the evidence.
The 11-member probe committee, which started its work from July 12, had sought CCTV footage from the Finance Ministry as part of its investigation.
“We received the hard drive of the CCTV footage from the Finance Ministry on Friday and we are in the process of finding footage of the date and time when the alleged incident took place,” said Surendra Aryal, secretary for the parliamentary Finance Committee who is currently the secretary of the probe committee. “We have not yet found the footage of the date and time from the collection.”
According to him, there is footage of over 2,500 events with one single footage capturing hours-long video.
“We are not yet sure whether there is the footage of the date and time we sought,” he said. “If the sought footage is clearly missing, the committee will decide how to get additional CCTV footage and necessary information regarding the alleged incident. The committee has the authority to increase its scope of investigation by itself.”
The committee was formed on July 6, but it started its work only on July 12. The committee has been given 10 days from the date it started its work to submit its report with recommendations.
The committee has so far sought to examine the CCTV footage of the Finance Ministry only.
“The probe committee may take necessary decisions regarding whether to examine footage from other parts of Singha Durbar if the sought footage from the Finance Ministry could not be found,” Aryal told the Post.
Just as the probe committee has struggled to find the relevant footage, the Supreme Court on Friday noted that it cannot imagine that CCTV footage data of Singha Durbar, the main administrative hub of the country, are not kept safely by the authorities.
In response to the writ petition for an interim order to relieve Finance Secretary Madhu Kumar Marasini and Revenue Secretary Krishna Hari Pushkar of their duties for tampering with evidence, a single bench of Justice Kumar Regmi has said an interim order is not necessary because it is unimaginable that the CCTV data of Singha Durbar are not safe.
Earlier, the ministry had claimed that the footage of May 28 got erased though such documents should be kept safe for at least three months as per the CCTV/Camera Installation and Operation Procedure 2015 introduced by the Home Ministry.
Besides studying the CCTV footage, the probe committee is also grilling the officials of the Finance Ministry as part of its investigation.
On Saturday, the committee questioned Kamal Prasad Bhattarai, director general of the Department of Customs; Ritesh Kumar Shakya, director general of the Inland Revenue Department; and Bhupal Baral, chief of revenue management division of the Finance Ministry.
Shakya told the Post they were separately called for the inquiry.
“I gave my statement on the questions of the probe committee members,” he said, without elaborating on what he was asked and how he responded.
Aryal, along with parliamentary probe committee members, was also cautious to talk about what the Finance Ministry officials said about the alleged incident.
“I cannot reveal what they said as we are in the process of investigation,” Aryal said.
According to him, the committee is scheduled to interrogate Finance Secretary Marasini and Revenue Secretary Pushkar on Sunday along with the chiefs of budget and administration divisions—both joint secretaries—of the Finance Ministry.
As per Friday’s schedule, the two secretaries were supposed to be summoned on Saturday.
The committee has recorded statements of other Finance Ministry officials.
“Their statements will be revealed once we complete the investigation and produce a report,” said Laxman Lal Karna, a member of the committee.
There was public outcry and widespread criticism after Annapurna Post, a vernacular daily, on June 20 reported that Sharma had directed the officials at his ministry to follow suggestions of the two individuals in changing tax rates.
Though Sharma rubbished the allegations, claiming that he hadn’t done anything wrong, he was forced to resign amid growing pressure from Parliament and the streets, and the parliamentary committee was formed to investigate the case.
“We hope to conclude the investigation and submit a report within the set deadline,” Aryal said.