Nine booked for corruption in procurement of equipment for security printing pressPaudel, executive director of Security Printing, and others charged with corruption.
The Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority on Sunday filed a corruption case at the Special Court against nine individuals including Bikal Paudel, the executive director of the Security Printing Centre.
The anti-graft body said in a statement that they were involved in irregularities of up to Rs690.88 million while procuring equipment for the printing press.
According to the CIAA, the accused were involved in preparation and approval of an unnatural (inflated) cost estimate, accepting the supply of substandard electric transformers by going against the contract, and making payment for a generator produced in a country other than that specified in the contract.
The accused reportedly made advance payments for operation of equipment and post-supply services without installing the equipment as per the contract.
CIAA spokesperson Bhola Dahal said that a case had been filed against them for misusing the government’s treasury. The CIAA carried out the investigation following a complaint claiming that the contracts for supplying these machines were awarded in collusion between officials and suppliers.
The anti-graft body has sought punishment of up to three years of jail, confiscation of offence amount and equivalent fines as per Section 8 of the Prevention of Corruption Act 2002. Paudel, the main accused, allegedly misappropriated Rs690.88 million while others have been charged for losses amounting to Rs869,097 and Rs494.63 million for the state.
Along with Paudel, the CIAA has named Chief Divisional Engineer Nabin Kumar Pokharel, currently working for the Ministry of Forests, Ramesh Prasad Pokharel, assistant director at National Information Technology Centre in Singha Durbar, Section Officer at National Inclusion Commission Manikman Maharjan and Section Officer at District Coordination Committee, Kathmandu, Sirish Upadhyay as defendants.
The other accused include retired accounts officer Ram Bahadur Budha, Managing Director at Engineering Marketing Concern Pvt Ltd Rohit Man Pradhan, Director at Meptek Building Services Pvt Ltd Bhuwan Maharjan, and Managing Director and Consultant at Vastushilpa Associates Mitra Lal Gurau.
These equipment were procured to help the operation of the security printing press which the government planned to set up. But the Office of Auditor General had raised questions about the advance procurement of these equipment.
On December 23, 2019, the Cabinet led by then Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli decided to procure a security printing press under a government-to-government agreement. Earlier, the budget for the fiscal year 2019-20 had announced the procurement of such a press within two years.
Before a final decision was made, printers, plotters and computers among other equipment worth Rs24.35 million were bought in fiscal years 2018-19 and 2019-20, according to the auditing body’s 58th annual report.
In fact, the Security Printing Centre had spent as much as Rs862.71 million before a final decision on the procurement had been made. As per the contract signed with the supplier of a fuel storage tank, the Security Printing Centre was supposed to make payment of 80 percent of the total price after the tank’s delivery while the rest was supposed to be paid after installation, test and operation. But, according to the auditing body’s report, Rs147.73 million was released to the supplier without detailed specifications of the testing of the tank.
An additional Rs33.22 million, equivalent to 20 percent, was also paid before installation, testing and operation of the tank was completed, the report says.
Efforts to procure a security printing press itself plunged into controversy after CPN-UML lawmaker and former minister for information and communications Gokul Baskota was allegedly caught on audio negotiating a Rs700 million "commission" with the agent for a Swiss company, which wanted to sell a security printing press to Nepal.
On the record, Baskota can be heard negotiating with Bijaya Prakash Sharma Mishra, the local agent for a Swiss company vying for a government contract regarding security printing of passports and other sensitive material.
On the record, the two voices discuss ways of extracting and sharing commissions. There is a negotiation over what percentage of the commission will go to whom and the voice that has been identified as Baskota advises that the value of the total deal be bumped up to Rs27 billion from Rs25 billion. The episode led to the resignation of Baskota, a confidante of then prime minister Oli, from the post of minister.
The record surfaced at a time when the government was considering purchasing a security printing press.
The Cabinet meeting, on December 23, 2019, had authorised the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology to procure the security press either from Germany or France after the Cabinet identified proposals submitted by companies from both countries as appropriate for Nepal.
Earlier, the Security Printing Centre headed by Paudel had estimated the cost of the entire printing equipment at Rs33 billion and many experts had questioned the figure.
Instead of taking a decision by itself, the communication ministry asked the Cabinet to decide on the matter. On April 14, 2020, the Cabinet authorised the ministry to procure the printing press through open competition instead of a government-to-government deal.
But the ministry took no further initiative.
The centre spent Rs487 million on purchasing the generator, Rs187.74 million on installing pressurised fuel storage tank, Rs23.72 million on repair and maintenance of administrative and residential buildings of the information technology park, the auditing body has said.