Experts call for probing Arzu Rana in refugee scamPolice identify a voice in the leaked audio as of defendant Sandesh Sharma. Rana had dismissed the audio as fake.
Police have neither interrogated Arzu Rana, a lawmaker and the wife of former prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, nor filed a case against her, in the fake Bhutanese refugee scam even though a leaked audio recording suggested she had received a cash amount from a suspect in the case.
After investigating the audio recording following Rana’s complaint filed on April 15 at the Cyber Bureau of the Nepal Police claiming that the audio was fake, the police established that the voice in the audio matched with Sandesh Sharma, one of the defendants in the refugee scam.
In the leaked audio, a person is heard claiming to have provided Rs25 million to Rana while also saying that an additional Rs60 million was handed over to Manju Khand, the wife of former home minister Bal Krishna Khand. He is in judicial custody for investigation in the case.
Additional Inspector General Kuber Kadayat notified on Sunday that the leaked voice matched with the voice of 34-year Sharma, a resident from Tulasipur Sub-metropolitan City-16, Dang who has been charged in court with fraud and organised crime.
The control sample of Sharma’s voice matched the voice in the leaked audio during a test with Speakers Identification Traits Match technology, police said.
Former police officers said police confirming that the voice in the leaked matching with a defendant in the scam suggests that Rana should also be investigated for her possible involvement in the scam.
“It is now vital to determine through police investigation whether she was involved in the scam,” said former deputy inspector general Hementa Malla Thakuri. “If the leaked audio was not linked to any person accused in the scam, the person speaking in the audio would be responsible for his words.”
After the audio was leaked, there were growing calls to question Rana in the scam. But the police didn’t take her statement.
When the District Attorney Office, Kathmandu registered a criminal case against 30 people including former deputy prime minister Top Bahadur Rayamajhi and former home minister Khand on May 24, Rana was not on the list of defendants.
The attorney office said that all 30 accused were prosecuted for four types of crimes—treason, organised crime, fraud and forgery.
After a hearing on whether to remand those arrested in the case, out of the 18 people arrested, the Kathmandu District Court on June 16 had sent 16 people including Rayamajhi and Khand to jail.
The scam came to light after a group of racketeers unsuccessfully tried to send Nepalis to the US in the guise of Bhutanese refugees after collecting money in the range of Rs150,000 to Rs4.8 million each from the individuals.
With a dozen defendants still at large, the police have been arguing that investigation could be broadened to include others once evidence is found, saying that the statements of those absconding were yet to be taken.
Former AIG Bigyan Raj Sharma told the Post that matching of leaked audio with one of the defendants in the case has given the police an angle to investigate Rana. “This corroborative evidence should be complimented by solid evidence if she is to be prosecuted,” he said. “Otherwise, the case will be weak. The investigators should not act based only on public sentiments.”
Former senior police officers said they believed the investigation into the scam was as yet incomplete.
Not only Congress lawmaker Rana, even a close aide to former prime minister KP Sharma Oli has also been accused of receiving money from one of the defendants.
Oli’s former advisor Ajaya Kranti Shakya allegedly received Rs10 million as per the statement given by a defendant to the police. “Maybe the police do not have enough solid evidence against Rana and Shakya and they were hence not brought in for inquiry. But it does not mean that investigation is over and they can never be investigated,” said former AIG Sharma.
Former police officers said that the defendants’ accusation against Rana and Shakya should also be established with solid proof such as when and how the money was paid and if there is any evidence of bank transactions of the money allegedly provided.
When the police did not look into their possible involvement in the scam, many suspected the two were being spared because of the political protection they enjoyed for being close to the top leaders of major parties.
Police, however, didn’t confirm whether any investigation on Rana would be initiated following the revelation that the voice of leaked audio matched with one of the defendants in the case.
Kathmandu Police Range Chief Senior Superintendent Dan Bahadur Karki, however, said they had already confirmed the voice in the leaked audio was that of Sharma before the investigation report was submitted to the District Attorney Office, Kathmandu for prosecution of 30 individuals.
In a statement given to the police, Sharma had earlier rejected his own statement leaked in the audio saying that he had named Rana and Khand to save himself from those who had registered complaints to the police.
“We have incorporated that audio in our investigation report too,” Karki said. “It is not a new subject for us.”