UML continues to obstruct House over gold smugglingMain opposition says it suspects involvement of prime minister and home minister, and CIB won’t grill them.
Despite the home minister committing to a fair investigation into last month’s gold seizure, the main opposition party continued its disruption of the House of Representatives demanding a high-level panel to conduct the probe.
After nearly two weeks of obstruction, the CPN-UML on Tuesday allowed Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs Narayan Kaji Shrestha to inform the House on the measures being taken to investigate the smuggling of gold supposed to be over 100 kilograms. But soon afterwards, the UML resumed its protest saying Shrestha was not ready to constitute the panel as it demanded.
“We were expecting the home minister to announce the formation of a panel in his address to the House. However, he used Parliament to make a political speech without entertaining our demands,” said Mahesh Bartuala, the UML whip. “We cannot allow the House to run when the government is not interested in conducting an impartial investigation.”
The federal parliament hasn't functioned since July 26 due to continuous protest by the main opposition party.
In his address on Tuesday, Shrestha urged all opposition parties to trust the investigation being conducted by the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) of the Nepal Police. He said the gold smuggling case is an organised crime and needs to be investigated within 60 days.
“The Department of Revenue Investigation has handed over the case to the CIB after probing the case for 20 days. As the district attorney's office needs five days to study the case, the CIB has 35 days to conclude its investigation. I believe they will reveal the nexus of those involved in the smuggling case in the remaining time and bring the culprits before the law,” he said. “We can discuss alternatives if the CIB fails to do its job. But until then, it is my humble request to allow them to work.”
Countering the opposition’s demand, he said it was no guarantee that a parliamentary committee's investigation would succeed. “A parliamentary panel was formed to investigate the 33 kg gold smuggled in the country [in 2020]. However, the probe couldn’t recover even a gram of the gold,” he said. “There are state agencies designated to investigate such matters. We need to trust them.”
In an attempt to end the parliamentary obstruction, two rounds of meetings were held between the top leaders of the three major parties in the presence of Speaker Devraj Ghimire on Monday and Tuesday, but they turned out to be futile as both sides stuck to their guns.
Prime Minister and CPN (Maoist Centre) chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal had earlier pledged to address the demand of KP Sharma Oli, the CPN-UML chair, for the formation of a separate panel. Though there was no agreement among the top leaders, the UML decided to allow cross-party leaders and the home minister to address the House on Tuesday. One leader from each of the parties including independent lawmakers addressed the lower house.
Presenting his views, Yogesh Bhattarai, the UML secretary, said they are demanding a high-level panel as they suspect the prime minister and home minister have roles in the gold smuggling case. “Police reports clearly show a top Maoist Centre leader and his son were involved in [an earlier case of] smuggling gold using electronic cigarettes, but they were not investigated because the government didn't want to. How can we trust the same system to conduct a fair investigation into the gold scam?” he asked. “There are reports that 22 similar consignments had passed the customs before the 100 kg was seized. How is that possible? The prime minister and home minister should be investigated. Can the CIB interrogate them?”
Ruling party leaders, however, said the UML must trust the state agencies and it was wrong to suspect the fairness of police investigation even before the probe had begun. They also said the House belongs to all parties and the UML should not hold it hostage. “Lawmakers have been barred from raising the concerns of their electorate. The opposition can oppose the government, but cannot hold the House hostage,” said Bishwa Prakash Sharma, a Nepali Congress leader.
On July 18, assisted by the Armed Police Force, the Department of Revenue Investigation (DRI) seized gold estimated to be worth over a billion rupees and arrested six individuals from Sinamangal near the Tribhuvan International Airport. Police later arrested several others and raided various places in the Capital in connection with the case.
The main opposition has questioned the home ministry’s role, asking how the yellow metal believed to be around 100 kilograms could get past the airport customs without the knowledge of the ministry’s boss, Minister Shrestha. The gross weight of the seized gold and accompanying metal items was found to be 155 kilograms, which included motorcycle brake shoes and electric shavers. The actual quantity of gold has, however, yet to be determined, as it requires melting.
The next House meeting has been called for Wednesday.