Rayamajhi kingpin, Khand tried to return bribe: Charge sheetThe Kathmandu attorney’s office has charged 30 persons with four types of crimes in fake Bhutanese refugee scam.
Prithvi Man Shrestha
The District Attorney Office Kathmandu on Wednesday filed criminal cases at the District Court Kathmandu against 30 individuals including former deputy prime minister Top Bahadur Rayamajhi and former home minister Bal Krishna Khand, accusing their involvement in the fake Bhutanese refugee scam.
The attorney office said they have been charged with four types of crimes—treason, organised crime, fraud and forgery.
“We have sought additional punishment for public officials including former ministers, secretaries and political appointees at public offices, and government employees,” said Mahesh Prasad Khatri, district attorney at the District Attorney Office, Kathmandu. “For the crime of treason, we have sought additional punishment for public office holders, which does not apply to non-public office holders.”
According to the attorney office’s chargesheet, besides Rayamajhi and Khand, others prosecuted include Indrajeet Rai, security advisor to former home minister Ram Bahadur Thapa, suspended government secretary Tek Narayan Pandey, former lawmaker Ang Tawa Sherpa, Bhutanese human rights leader Tek Nath Rijal, Rayamajhi’s son Sandeep, middlemen Keshav Prasad Dulal, Sanu Bhandari, Sandesh Sharma, Ram Sharan KC, Shumsher Miya, Tanka Kumar Gurung, Sagar Rai, Narendra KC, and Govinda Chaudhary. All of them are currently in police custody.
Likewise, other accused who are on the run including Prateek Thapa (son of former home minister Thapa), Keshav Tuladhar, Laxmi Maharjan, Dhiren Rai, Mohan Raj Rai, Deepa Humagain, Sunil Budhathoki, Binita Saoden Limbu, Niranjan Kumar Kharel, Hari Bhakta Maharjan, Ashok Pokharel, Rajesh Aryal, Niraj Rai and Ashish Budhathoki have also been prosecuted.
After a two-month-long probe, the police submitted its investigation report to the District Attorney Office on Monday and the latter filed the charge sheet against the accused at the district court on Wednesday.
Even though police recommended prosecuting them on charges of treason, organised crime, and fraud, the District Attorney Office indicted them on the offence of forgery too.
They have been charge-sheeted for collecting Rs288.17 million from 115 victims—ranging from Rs150,000 to Rs4.8 million—on the promise of sending them to the US as Bhutanese refugees.
The racketeers had bribed politicians and government officials to include the names of many Nepali nationals on a proposed list of Bhutanese refugees eligible for third-country resettlement.
After Nepal’s efforts to repatriate the refugees failed, international organisations including the UN refugee agency had explored the third-country resettlement option. Of the around 120,000 refugees staying in camps in eastern Nepal since the 1990s, nearly 113,500 were resettled in various Western countries in the decade-long process. The US alone took in more than 90,000 of them. Around 8,500 Bhutanese refugees were estimated to have remained in the camps after the closure of the third-country resettlement process in 2016.
Amid public uproar over alleged involvement of senior leaders of major political parties in the scam, CPN-UML suspended its secretary Rayamajhi, one of the accused in the case, from the party position. But Khand continues to remain a central working committee member of the ruling Nepali Congress.
“It is rare for politicians to face treason charges in such a case,” said Achyut Neupane, chief of the Kathmandu District Attorney’s Office. Treason is an act of offence against the state. “Politicians might have faced treason charges during the conflict period, but rarely in normal times.”
According to the charge sheet, they have been indicted for crimes against the state as they were involved in offences provisioned in section 51 (1) and 2 (a) of the Criminal Code Act-2017.
As per this section, nobody should act against national interest or encourage others to do so and nobody should act in a way that impairs the country's image internationally.
The charge sheet says that their acts proved to be an offence against the state as turning Nepalis into Bhutanese refugees impaired Nepal’s international image and prestige.
The prosecutor has sought punishment as per the section 51 (4a) of the Criminal Code Act-2017 for all the accused.
As per this provision, the defendants, if proven guilty, are subject to a prison term of five years and a fine of Rs50,000. But, in the case of former ministers Rayamajhi and Khand, the then security advisor Indrajeet Rai, suspended government secretary Tek Narayan Pandey, Bhutanese refugee leader Tek Nath Rijal and the Nepal Hajj Committee chair Sumsher Miya, the prosecutor has sought an additional jail term of three years as per the section 51 (7) of the Criminal Code Act-2017 as they are also public officials.
The attorney office has also sought jail term of five years and a fine of Rs50,000 as per section 9(c) of the Organised Crime Act-2013. Additional 50 percent penalty has also been sought as per section 9 (a). Besides demanding such penalties, it sought the confiscation of various goods including vehicles and electronic items used in organised crime, as per section 51 of the law.
On charges of fraud, the prosecutor has sought imprisonment of seven years and fines up to Rs70,000 against the defendants as per section 249 (3c) of the Criminal Code Act-2017.
For forgery, the attorney office has sought imprisonment of seven years and fine up to Rs70,000 as per section 276(3c) of the Criminal Code Act-2017.
Since the defendants had allegedly collected Rs288.17 million from the victims, the prosecutor has also sought refund of the amount from the defendants as per section 254 of the Criminal Code Act-2017. The attorney office also has sought compensation from the defendants to the relief fund created for the victims of crimes as per the Victim of Crime Protection Act-2018.
As per the charge sheet, the attorney has made it clear that defendants could face further charges based on additional evidence and more individuals could be indicted as per section 35 of the National Criminal Procedure (Code) Act-2017.
The charge sheet says there was malafide intention on the part of the government in forming the taskforce and making efforts to add names to the list of Bhutanese refugees even though the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) had ended the third-country resettlement programme in December 2016.
In 2019, then government led by KP Sharma Oli had formed the 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. The taskforce submitted the report by including 429 leftover Bhutanese refugees.
After the Panthi-led committee submitted its report, the government changed. Instead of presenting the same report to the next Cabinet headed by Sher Bahadur Deuba, Khand formed another committee through a secretary-level decision on September 30, 2021 to verify the list included in the Panthi report. As the committee did nothing, the term of the committee was extended by two months through a ministerial level decision on June 10, 2022 with a mandate to add the names of leftover refugees.
Some senior officials of the home ministry had repeatedly warned against revising the list as it would set bad precedent, according to the charge sheet.
Defendant Keshav Prasad Dulal had even provided Rs12.45 million cash bribe to Khand, according to the charge sheet.
After Sanu Bhandari and Keshav Prasad Dulal were arrested, Khand had sent former Congress lawmaker Ang Tawa Sherpa to visit them at the police station, offering to return the bribe money if they remained silent about his involvement.
In fact, Sherpa had also taken Rs10 million from Khand to return the bribe. Of the sum, Rs3 million was handed over to Raju Bhandari, elder brother of Sanu Bhandari. Ang Tawa was given the receipt of return of the money, according to the charge sheet.
The charge sheet has named former deputy prime minister Rayamajhi as a mastermind of the refugee scam. According to the charge sheet, he played a key role in causing the disappearance of the actual report of the Panthi task force and replacing it with a fake one.
The then home secretary Tek Narayan Pandey had stolen the report from the ministry and replaced it with the fake one.
Rayamajhi had even sought the help of another defendant, Bhutanese refugee leader Tek Nath Rizal, to make the scam successful. Rizal had supplied membership cards of Bhutan Human Rights Organization to non-Bhutanese, who aspired to go to the US as Bhutanese refugees.
Rayamajhi had received Rs16 million in cash and Rs4 million through the banking channel from defendant Sanu Bhandari, according to the charge sheet.
Secretary Pandey created the fake report about leftover Bhutanese refugees at the Home Ministry and even had a meeting with UNHCR representatives regarding the leftover refugees.
Defendant Keshav Prasad Dulal had narrated that he had paid Rs12.45 million to Pandey in cash while he was also found to have deposited Rs8.49 million in Pandey’s bank accounts at the Everest Bank, the Employees Provident Fund and the Civil Investment Trust between November 2021 and June 2022 .