Police for indicting 33 in Bhutanese refugee scamThey have fixed the total amount involved in the scam at around Rs270 million based on complaints by 113 people.
Prithvi Man Shrestha
Police on Monday submitted its investigation report on the Bhutanese refugee scam to the District Attorney Office Kathmandu with a recommendation to prosecute 33 individuals including senior political leaders of different political parties accused in the scam.
Submitting the report on Monday, the police recommended the attorney office to implicate those involved in the scam on three types of charges—fraud, organised crime and treason—both police and District Attorney Office Kathmandu confirmed.
Of the accused, 16 including former deputy prime minister Top Bahadur Rayamajhi and former home minister Bal Krishna Khand have been arrested while 17 are on the run. They were involved in collecting millions of rupees from hundreds of people by promising to send them to the US as Bhutanese refugees.
“We submitted the investigation report recommending the prosecution of 33 accused in the scam,” Kathmandu Police Range Chief Senior Superintendent of Police Dan Bahadur Karki told the Post. “We have recommended prosecuting them for the offence of fraud, organised crime and treason considering the domestic and international dimension of the scam.”
Police said that given the efforts made to turn Nepali citizens into foreigners (Bhutanese), the District Attorney Office got the recommendation to prosecute them for treason too.
The police have determined the total amount involved in the offence at around Rs270 million. “The amount was determined based on 23 complaints registered by 113 people,” Karki said.
The District Attorney Office is responsible for registering the charge sheet at the district court after studying the police investigation. It looks to match the evidence collected with legal provision and tries to determine whether the offences are established legally.
Achyut Neupane, chief of the Kathmandu District Attorney’s Office, said that his office has started studying whether to prosecute those recommended by the police and whom to prosecute under what legal provision.
“The accused could also be prosecuted for tampering with government documents which has not been suggested by the police,” he said.
With little time remaining for the District Attorney Office Kathmandu to study the police investigation report, Neupane said that it won’t recommend the police to conduct further investigation before a charge sheet is filed.
The office must file a charge sheet at the District Court, Kathmandu by May 24, according to Laxman Upadhyay Ghimire, spokesperson of the district attorney office.
As per the Organised Crime Act-2013, a person accused of organised crime can be placed in judicial custody for a maximum 60 days. Based on this provision, the deadline for keeping those accused in the scam in custody expires on May 24. “There are just two days left for us to file the charge sheet,” said Neupane.
On March 26, police had first arrested the accused, including Keshav Dulal from Morang, Sanu Bhandari from Lalitpur and Tek Gurung from Panchthar.
Based on their statements to the police, the involvement of high profile people in the scam was exposed and the arrests were made. Besides former ministers Rayamajhi and Khand, other top officials including former home secretary Tek Narayan Pandey, who was working as a secretary at the Office of the Vice President until his arrest, former home minister Ram Bahadur Thapa’s security adviser Indrajit Rai, former home minister Khand’s personal secretary Narendra KC, former Nepali Congress lawmaker Aang Tawa Sherpa, and some middlemen, are among those arrested. Police on Thursday also apprehended Bhutanese refugee leader Tek Nath Rizal in connection with the scam.
Police said it was natural that it took longer than expected to conclude the investigation because of the magnitude of the scam and that they continue to receive new complaints. “Investigation will continue into the scam based on new complaints,” said SP Karki. “Supplementary charge sheets will be registered against the accused after investigation into additional complaints.”
Police, in their investigation report, have also recommended that the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority be asked to investigate those accused who are holding public positions.
Likewise, they have suggested asking the Department of Money Laundering Investigation to look into those who don’t hold any government positions but are involved in the refugee scam.
As investigation into the scam continued, the police on Sunday asked the District Court, Kathmandu to extend the remand of the accused.
“The court also extended the judicial custody of those arrested in the scam until Tuesday,” Deepak Dahal, information officer at the Kathmandu District Court told the Post on Monday. “This is the second time the court extended their judicial custody.”
Earlier, the deadline was extended till Friday, but the accused remained in custody because of holiday on Saturday.
Kantipur daily, the Post’s sister publication, had first unearthed the refugee racket involving high profile political figures. As per the Kantipur report, the racketeers prepared a list of 875 people by promising to send them to the US as Bhutanese refugees by forging government documents.
In 2019, then government led by KP Sharma Oli formed a task-force under the then joint secretary Bal Krishna Panthi to recommend ways to manage the Bhutanese refugees who remain in Nepal following the cessation of third-country resettlement programme in 2016-end. But police said that the original report prepared by the Panthi-led committee had disappeared from the ministry.
“This could not have happened without the support of the home minister and home secretary,” a police officer told the Post earlier. “Only a duplicate report that had been tampered with in certain sections was found at the ministry.”
When the committee was formed, UML chair Oli was the prime minister and Ram Bahadur Thapa, currently the party’s vice chair, was the home minister.
Only 429 Bhutanese refugees living in two camps in Jhapa and Morang districts had applied as leftover refugees and asked the Panthi-led committee to include their names on the list of those to be resettled in third countries. The list was then verified by the UN refugee agency and the Refugee Coordination Unit based in Jhapa.
At the same time, the Panthi-led committee received applications from 875 people who wanted to be included in the list of leftover refugees. As they were not verified refugees, the committee had refused to accept their applications.
Then a group of racketeers led by Keshav Dulal and Sanu Bhandari who are now in police custody, stole the committee report, and prepared another list of 875 persons, according to police investigators. “Backed by the political and bureaucratic leaders, the racketeers added 18 pages to the report and circulated it as evidence. The goal was to make people believe they were being sent to the US as Bhutanese refugees,” a police officer involved in the investigation told the Post a few days ago.
The racketeers had allegedly managed to steal the Panthi report with the help of home ministry officials including the then home minister Thapa’s security advisor Indrajit Rai. In the meantime, there was a change in government following Oli’s ouster. Khand became the new home minister. “Then the racketeers convinced him to form a new sub-committee to verify the new long list of refugees,” the police officer said.