Investigators to seek technical help to recover missing May 28 CCTV footageWhile the panel is seeking footage of May 28, the ministry has supplied records of later dates.
After failing to get the CCTV footage of the night of May 28 when the then finance minister allegedly allowed two unauthorised persons inside the Ministry of Finance to manipulate tax rates, the parliamentary probe committee formed to investigate the matter said it will do all to recover the footage.
Members of the probe committee investigating the scandal told the Post that they will consult technical experts to try recover the footage of the night when the alleged incident took place on the eve of the budget presentation day.
“We could not find the footage of May 28 as the finance ministry provided us only the CCTV records of the month of Asar [mid June-mid July],” Pradeep Gyawali, a member of the probe committee, told the Post. “We are studying how to retrieve the footage of the month of Jyestha [mid May-mid June].”
Surendra Aryal, secretary for the parliamentary Finance Committee who is also the secretary of the probe panel, said the panel’s meeting on Monday has decided to consult with technical experts on Tuesday to retrieve the footage, which the finance ministry claims got erased automatically. The ministry has been claiming that the CCTV records of the past month got erased owing to the limited capacity of the hard drive.
“After studying the CCTV records supplied by the finance ministry, the committee reached the conclusion that the records do not contain the footage the investigators are looking for,” he said.
The probe committee had received the CCTV footage from the Finance Ministry on July 15. The committee formed on July 6, on the same day when Minister Sharma resigned from his post, had started its work from July 12.
On July 3, the Finance Ministry responded to the Forum for Protection of Consumer Rights Nepal, saying that the CCTV footage of the night of May 28 got erased as the system could store only 13 days of recording. This response is widely viewed as Sharma’s attempt to destroy the evidence.
The Forum had demanded the CCTV footage of May 28 under the Right to Information Act.
The ministry’s claim is contrary to the CCTV/Camera Installation and Operation Procedure 2015 introduced by the Home Ministry as per which both the government and private institutions and private citizens who have installed CCTV for security surveillance must keep the records safe for at least three months.
As the probe committee was struggling to find the relevant footage, the Supreme Court, in response to a writ petition, on July 15 had 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 said an interim order is not necessary because it is unimaginable that the CCTV data of Singha Durbar are not safe.
But the Finance Ministry failed to provide the footage of May 28 despite the court’s observation.
Pramod Parajuli, a cyber security expert, told the Post in early July that the Nepal Police has its own digital lab which can determine whether a footage was erased deliberately or automatically.
The probe committee has received several suggestions from various quarters including observing the CCTV footage of May 28 of other cameras on the Singha Durbar premises including the one installed at the main gate.
“The committee has internalised the various suggestions. But our first priority is to unearth the footage of the Finance Ministry where the alleged incident took place,” said Aryal.
Besides searching for the CCTV footage, the probe committee has also been grilling officials of the Finance Ministry and its departments to dig out information.
On Sunday, the probe committee questioned Finance Secretary Marasini and Revenue Secretary Pushkar along with Budget Division chief Chakra Bahadur Budha, Administrative Division Chief Kedar Nath Sharma and the head of the information technology department at the Finance Ministry, according to Aryal.
A source at the committee told the Post on condition of anonymity that all the officials who were questioned rejected claims that unauthorised persons were allowed inside the ministry to tweak tax rates.
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.
The probe committee is, however, yet to question ex-finance minister Sharma, who has been claiming that he hadn’t done anything wrong. Under growing pressure from Parliament and the streets, he had resigned on July 6. Aryal said they have not yet decided whether to question the ex-finance minister.
Laxman Lal Karna, a member of the committee said the probe team would first consult technical experts on how to recover the lost footage. “We will then fix the date for questioning ex-minister Sharma,” he added.