Experts laud arrests, say will be watching progressThey caution against the possibility of party honchos coming together to protect their accused colleagues.
In public, political leaders can stoop to any low in criticising each other. They blame others for promoting corruption, bad governance and for the country’s worsening economy.
However, the fake Bhutanese refugee scam suggests leaders from across the party line are more partners in crime when it comes to making money. The Nepal Police on Wednesday arrested former home minister and Nepali Congress leader Bal Krishna Khand in connection with the scam. Similarly, an arrest warrant has been issued against CPN-UML secretary and former deputy prime minister Top Bahadur Rayamajhi. The police have already arrested 10 people for helping people forge documents to prove that they are Bhutanese refugees liable for emigration to the United States.
Tek Narayan Pandey, who was the home secretary when Khand was a minister and Indrajit Rai, security adviser to former home minister Ram Bahadur Thapa, are among the arrestees. Pratik, son of Thapa, is absconding, just like Rajamajhi. Thapa and Rajamajhi, formerly members of the CPN (Maoist Centre), chose to join the UML camp when the Nepal Communist Party (NCP) split following a court order in March 2021.
Police are investigating a widely circulated audio tape where two persons are heard accusing Manju Khand, a member of the House of Representatives and wife of former home minister Khand, and Arju Rana Deuba, wife to former Prime Minister and Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba, of accepting millions of rupees to support the forgery.
Those who are closely following the developments say it is not new for rival parties to join hands to make money. Surya Nath Upadhyay, former chief commissioner at the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority, said the way the top leaders are having intense meetings following police investigations of their party colleagues clearly shows they are not happy with the latest developments.
UML chairperson KP Sharma Oli has openly expressed his discontent over the arrest warrant against Rayamajhi. “The worry top leadership leaders have expressed after the exposure of the involvement of their colleagues in the scam shows how deep rooted corruption is,” he told the Post.
He says politics has become a costly affair and chances of winning elections without spending big money are getting slim. The leaders, therefore, can bend to any low to make money when they are in power, he said.
Observers say corruption is prevalent across the party lines.
Former government secretary and President of the Transparency International Khem Raj Regmi said masterminds in preparing fake documents paid millions to the influential leaders from whichever party is in power to execute their plans. The issue came to light because those who paid the money couldn’t travel to the US, he said.
“It is an issue of international concern. The government is under pressure to investigate, not just from agencies in the country but also from the outside,” he told the Post. “Whatever the reasons, the investigation is commendable.”
Investigation into several cases of high-level corruption have gone nowhere. Billions of rupees were believed to have been embezzled in the procurement of wide-body aircraft for the Nepal Airlines, in buying land for Nepal Oil Corporation or extending the leasing period of the Gokarna Forest Resort to Yeti Holdings, among others. “There is a cross-party involvement in these crimes. Perhaps that is why the investigation was not carried out properly,” said Regmi.
Observers, however, say arrests alone are not enough; it is as important to undertake proper investigations. They say the court’s order will depend on the strength of the cases the police prepare.
Upadhyay says two things need to be closely watched. First, how the investigation process moves ahead and the second, what types of orders the court passes. “We need to carefully evaluate the charge sheet. We also need to carefully watch what orders passed by our judges, many of whom have been appointed along political lines,” he said.
However, both Regmi and Upadhyay say it is not easy for the government and the parties to backtrack. The popularity of the big parties is waning and any attempt to sabotage the investigation will further harm their reputation. “The general public is closely watching and Parliament too is getting into the act. I don’t think it will be possible for the government to turn back now,” said Upadhayay.