Congress and UML still far apart on high-level gold probeCoalition tasks CIB, but UML insists on setting up elite panel.
Two major political parties are still at odds over how to investigate last month’s gold smuggling case, which has rocked the Parliament for weeks. And there is still no agreement. While ruling parties want the Central Investigative Bureau (CIB) of Nepal Police to continue with the probe, the main opposition, CPN-UML, has been insisting on setting up a judicial high-level investigation committee.
Another opposition party, the Rastriya Swatantra Party, said the Parliament had been “hijacked” by Speaker Devraj Ghimire where its lawmakers were not being allowed to speak.
A meeting of the ruling parties on Monday evening concluded that the insistence on setting up a high-level committee to investigate the gold smuggling case is aimed at delaying and derailing the investigation.
“In fact, the demand for a high-level committee to probe the gold smuggling case is intended to obstruct the ongoing investigation,” said Rajendra Pandey, leader of the CPN (Unified Socialist). “Such demand will only dilute the scam.”
The CIB is investigating two different gold smuggling cases. The first was reported on December 25 last year when gold had been found hidden inside e-cigarettes, while another came out on July 18. In the first case, a consignment of nine kilos of gold was smuggled into the country by Chinese suppliers, while in the second, around 60.789 kg of gold was brought in.
According to the weighing done by the Mint Division of Nepal Rastra Bank on Monday, the gold confiscated on July 18 was found to be 60.789 kg. The weighing was done after removing the gold nuggets from the brake shoes. Earlier it was believed to be over 100 kg. Officials said the exact weight of the gold will be known once the metal is melted.
Following the meeting of its parliamentary party on Monday, the Nepali Congress said it is a serious matter that illegal gold managed to pass through the Tribhuvan International Airport that is otherwise closely guarded by important state agencies.
“The repeated passage of illegal gold has saddened the party and such acts should be controlled. Whoever is involved should be investigated and punished. Such criminal acts are being probed by the CIB, whose objective is to investigate and file charges on criminal offenses. This meeting of the Nepali Congress parliamentary party urges the government to conduct an independent, impartial, and in-depth investigation and bring those involved under the ambit of legal action,” said the party after the meeting.
The government has handed over the investigation of both the cases to the CIB. Initially, the probe over the July 18 incident was being carried out by the Department of Revenue Investigation (DRI), which is under the aegis of the prime minister’s office.
Some Nepali Congress lawmakers including Dr Shekhar Koirala questioned the rationale of placing the DRI under the purview of the prime minister’s office.
Former Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli in 2018 had brought the DRI under the PMO. While assigning the responsibility of investigating the latest gold scam to the CIB, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs Narayan Kaji Shrestha told lawmakers in Parliament to keep faith in state agencies like the CIB while ruling out the formation of a high-level committee as demanded by the UML.
The main opposition, UML, has been obstructing parliamentary proceedings for the past one month, demanding a high-level investigation into the gold scams. And on Sunday, some Congress lawmakers also backed its demand.
But Congress General Secretary Gagan Thapa has said that the state agencies should probe the gold smuggling case and everyone should trust such agencies.
Thapa said the government should also question former speaker and senior Maoist leader Krishna Bahadur Mahara over his possible connection in the 9-kg gold smuggling case. Another Congress general secretary, Bishwa Prakash Sharma, also stood in favor of a CIB investigation.
But the UML remains adamant on its stand on a high-level judicial inquiry to be headed by a current or a retired senior judge. “Delaying the probe in the gold smuggling case has confirmed the government’s involvement,” the UML said on Monday. “A high-level judicial committee should be formed to carry out an independent probe.”
UML Deputy General Secretary Pradeep Kumar Gyawali said the delay in investigation has increased the chances of evidence being destroyed and weakening the investigation. “The longer it takes, the greater the risk of evidence getting destroyed. CIB raids godowns but can’t find any evidence. Those involved are at large. This poses a challenge to Nepal's national security and risks damaging its international image,” said Gyawali.
The UML has charged the government with trying to suppress the opposition’s voice.
Gyawali added: “The members of Parliament who demanded the resignation of the finance minister and home minister were arrested in retaliation. As time passes, the involvement of the government is becoming clear. The government prosecutors are selectively withholding the names [of some people] implicated in the gold smuggling, leaving them outside the scope of the investigation.”
Meanwhile, the Nepali Congress has also expressed concerns over repeated obstruction of Parliament and decided to talk to the opposition parties, including the UML. After UML’s repeated obstruction of parliamentary meetings, Speaker Ghimire has postponed the House meeting for next week.
“The issues of people’s concern are not being raised in the House and important bills have not been passed. Bill presentations by the government are getting delayed while chairpersons of parliamentary thematic committees have not been chosen. The Congress has decided to take initiatives to resume House meetings through dialogue with the ruling and the opposition parties. There is a risk of the public getting dissatisfied with the parliamentary system due to the Parliament’s inactivity,” said a statement issued by the Congress.
The Congress said the government should be accountable to Parliament, and Parliament to the people. “It is natural for the opposition party to present itself critically in the House,” said the party. “But it is an irresponsible act to obstruct Parliamentary proceedings for long and create a situation where there can be no discussions.”
The fourth-largest party in the House, Rastriya Swatantra Party, said Parliament has been ‘hijacked’. Party chair Rabi Lamichhane made the charge on Monday after Speaker Ghimire did not give time for lawmakers to speak. Lamichhane said it is not possible to raise people’s concerns in a hijacked House.
Lamichhane said the impasse has “become a sad issue for a new political party like ours, which has been adhering to parliamentary principles. We didn’t expect this.”