Ex-ministers among 238 on CIB list for land scam prosecutionEx-prime ministers Nepal and Bhattarai spared in police report on Lalita Niwas probe submitted to district attorney.
Police on Tuesday recommended prosecuting 238 people including former ministers, senior bureaucrats and middlemen in the infamous Lalita Niwas land grab scam on charges of organised crime and forgery of government documents.
The Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) of Nepal Police submitted its investigation report to the District Attorney’s Office Kathmandu, which will now decide how many of them will be prosecuted.
The CIB chief, Additional Inspector General Kiran Bajracharya, told the Post that police recommended prosecuting as many as 238 people including former ministers linked to the scam. “We have submitted almost an 800-page report to the District Attorney Office Kathmandu along with evidence collected in 12 packets,” she said.
According to CIB officials, among those recommended for prosecution are former deputy prime minister and Nepali Congress leader Bijaya Kumar Gachhadar, former ministers Chandra Dev Joshi, Dambar Bahadur Shrestha and Chhabi Raj Panta and former minister of state Sanjay Sah.
Former chief commissioners of the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority Deep Basnyat, former election commissioner Sudhir Shah and former secretaries Dineshhari Adhikari, Narayan Gopal Malego and Yubaraj Bhusal, among others, have also been recommended for prosecution on the twin charges, according to Dinesh Acharya, senior superintendent of police at the CIB.
“Likewise, the CIB has suggested prosecuting Shobhakant Dhakal, Ram Kumar Subedi and Bhatbhateni Supermarket owner Min Bahadur Gurung as key architects of the land scam,” Acharya said. “Some members of business houses including Sharda Group and Goyal Group, who are also beneficiaries of the Baluwatar land, have also been recommended for prosecution.”
Likewise, Hatak Shumsher Rana and Hemadri Shumsher Rana, who are family members of the late Subarna Shumsher Rana, who is one of the founding leaders of the Nepali Congress, have also been recommended for prosecution.
In fact, the scam started following the restoration of democracy in 1990 under the pretext of returning Subarna Shumsher’s land. The land had been seized by the erstwhile Panchayat regime.
As expected, former prime ministers Madhav Kumar Nepal and Baburam Bhattarai have been spared from prosecution as their deposition (statement of potential offender) was not taken even though they were interrogated as government’s witnesses on Sunday.
CIB chief Bajracharya confirmed that the former prime ministers were not recommended for prosecution in the land grab case. “Our jurisdiction is limited. We only investigated the decisions taken up to the level of ministers,” she said.
She said those involved in transferring government-owned land to private individuals on different occasions since the early 1990s were recommended for prosecution. “We have recommended that they be charged for organised crime and forgery of government documents,” Bajracharya said, “as well as for collectively causing losses totalling Rs18 billion to the state.”
The District Attorney’s Office, Kathmandu is running out of time to prosecute those allegedly involved in the land grab scam on organised crime. As per the Organised Crime Act-2013, a person accused of organised crime can be placed in judicial custody for a maximum of 60 days.
Starting late June, police started arresting those allegedly involved in the land scam and around a dozen and half people are currently in police detention.
“We have to prosecute those arrested by Friday [August 25], when the 60-day deadline expires,” said Achyut Neupane, chief of the Kathmandu District Attorney’s Office. “We have yet to study the CIB report. We will start doing so from Wednesday and decide on who should be prosecuted by the legal deadline.”
Former ministers and majority of former senior government officials who have been recommended for prosecution under organised crime and forgery of government documents, have also faced corruption cases at the Special Court from the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA).
In February 2020, the anti-graft body had filed corruption cases against 175 individuals including former ministers. But former prime ministers Nepal and Bhattarai were spared from prosecution, stating that theirs’ were collective ‘policy decisions’ of respective Cabinets.
The government was forced to record the statements of former prime ministers after the Supreme Court on August 6 ordered that they too be investigated.
In early August, the court had ordered investigation against all those directly involved in the Cabinet decisions of April 11, 2010, May 14, 2010 along with August 13, 2010 and October 4, 2013, as well as those involved in implementing the decisions—in addition to those making and executing minister-level decisions.
The Nepal Cabinet had allowed the transfer of government land to individuals. Similarly, the Bhattarai Cabinet had permitted the land’s registration in the name of an allegedly fake trust by the name of Pashupati Tikinchha Guthi.
Nepal currently leads the CPN (Unified Socialist) while Bhattarai leads the Nepal Samajbadi Party, which are two ruling parties.
“Even though police didn’t recommend their prosecution, the District Attorney Office has the authority to tell the police to prosecute them if there is strong evidence against them,” said CPN-UML leader and former attorney general Agni Kharel.
The police in January last year had recommended prosecuting over 300 people allegedly involved in the scam on the charge of forgery of government documents. But the District Attorney’s Office had sent the investigation report back to the police.
The District Attorney’s Office returned the document recommending further investigation while also making it clear that the land grab had taken place before the Criminal (Code) Act-2017 came into force and the (now defunct) General Code-2020 BS was still in force. As the earlier code does not have the provision of statute of limitations, a case can be filed anytime.
However, immediate-past attorney general Khamma Bahadur Khati had reportedly ordered the District Attorney’s Office not to register cases of forgery and the investigation report was sent back to the CIB. The pending investigation since then was reopened only in June this year.
CIB chief Bajracharya also said she initiated the investigation again even though the report was returned to the CIB with a likely intent to avoid prosecuting those involved in the scam. “We basically gave new life to a dead investigation,” she said.
Additionally, the CIB also investigated them for organised crime even though it had last year submitted an investigation report only on forgery. From the early 1990s to 2023, as much as 143 ropani of government land was transferred in the name of families of Subarna Sumsher Rana and land dealers, in what came to be known as the Lalita Niwas land grab scam.
Going back in history, in 1960, then King Mahendra staged a coup against the democratic government, banned all political parties, and launched the partyless Panchayat rule that lasted 30 years.
The royal regime seized 14 ropani (7,122 square metres) of land from Lalita Niwas, owned by Subarna Sumsher, a top leader of the then banned Nepali Congress. Additionally, the government then had acquired 284 ropani from Lalita Niwas by paying compensation, as per the Land Acquisition Act 1961. After the restoration of democracy in 1990, the Krishna Prasad Bhattarai Cabinet decided to return the land seized by the Panchayat regime.
Two years later, officials at the Dillibazar Land Revenue Office misrepresented Sunita Rana, Shailaja Rana and Rukma Shumsher Rana as inheritors of Subarna Shumsher’s property, as it ‘returned’ to them 113 ropani and 3 ana of land.
Those who inherited the land from Subarna Shumsher sold their plots through controversial land dealer Shobha Kanta Dhakal, legal practitioner Ram Kumar Subedi, and some officials from the Dillibazar land revenue office. Since then, the plots have been re-sold more than 10 times.
The Rana family is believed to have transferred some plots to officials’ relatives “as gifts”. One beneficiary of the land given as a gift is former election commissioner Shah, according to the CIB.