310 charged with forgery in Lalita Niwas land scamInvestigators rule out organised crime for lack of evidence.
The District Attorney’s Office, Kathmandu on Sunday filed cases of forgery of government documents at the District Court, Kathmandu against 310 individuals including former ministers and incumbent and retired top bureaucrats in relation with the Lalita Niwas land grab scam.
As many as 52 have been made defendants just for the purpose of recovering government lands. Twenty-one deceased persons are also on the list of defendants against whom no penalty has been sought. But the goal is again to recover lands from those who inherited the government-owned lands of Lalita Niwas, according to the charge sheet.
Of the total defendants, 18 have been arrested while others are at large, according to the charge sheet.
Even though the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) of Police had also recommended filing cases against them for organised crime, the District Attorney’s Office chose only to register the case on the forgery of the government documents citing lack of evidence.
According to the charge sheet, organised crime could not be established based on the collected evidence. “That’s why, cases have been filed only for forgery,” it says.
Achyut Neupane, chief of the Kathmandu District Attorney’s Office, said that his office filed cases of forgery of government documents.
“As the incidents took place before the Act on Organised Crime-2013 was introduced, cases were not filed for organised crime retrospectively,” he said.
Former Special Court chairperson Gauri Bahadur Karki said a case of organised crime could not be filed against them as the law was introduced in 2013, “even though the nature of their offence hints at organised crime”.
The majority of those who now face forgery cases are also dealing with the corruption cases brought by the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority in February 2020.
Those prosecuted for forgery include former deputy prime minister Bijaya Kumar Gachhadar; former ministers Chandra Deo Joshi, Dambar Bahadur Shrestha and Chhabi Raj Pant; and former minister of state Sanjay Sah.
Likewise, sitting government secretary Krishna Bahadur Raut and joint secretary Sushil Vaidya have also been made defendants in the case. The CIB had, however, recommended not to register a case against Raut.
The charge sheet says Raut, who was a section officer at the physical infrastructure ministry at the time, had signed the documents by overstepping the jurisdiction of the erstwhile land reform ministry, paving the way for the transfer of government lands into individual hands.
Former chief commissioner of the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority Deep Basnyat and former government secretaries Dineshhari Adhikari, Narayan Gopal Malego and Yubaraj Bhusal, among others, too have been prosecuted for forgery, according to the charge sheet.
Likewise, middlemen Shobhakant Dhakal and Ram Kumar Subedi, and Bhatbhateni Supermarket owner Min Bahadur Gurung, are other defendants whom the police had identified as key architects of the land scam.
Even though police had recommended filing case against former Election Commissioner Sudhir Shah, the District Attorney’s Office didn’t make him a defendant, arguing that he had not signed any document related to Lalita Niwas land transfer and he was working at Land Revenue Office in Bhaktapur district when the transfer of lands took place, according to the charge sheet.
As expected, former prime ministers Madhav Kumar Nepal and Baburam Bhattarai avoided prosecution as police didn’t take their deposition (statement of potential offender) although the two were interrogated as government’s witnesses last week.
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 a probe against all those directly involved in the Cabinet decisions of April 11, 2010, May 14, 2010, August 13, 2010 and October 4, 2013, as well as those involved in implementing the decisions—this is in addition to those making and executing minister-level decisions.
The Nepal-led Cabinet had allowed the transfer of government land to individuals. Similarly, the Bhattarai-led Cabinet had permitted the land’s registration in the name of an allegedly fake trust by the name of Pashupati Tikinchha Guthi.
Former CPN-UML leader Nepal currently leads the CPN (Unified Socialist) while former Maoist leader Bhattarai leads the Nepal Samajwadi Party, both of which are in the ruling coalition.
“There has obviously been discriminatory treatment between the former prime ministers and others. Those who took decisions avoided prosecution and those who made recommendations for Cabinet decisions and those who implemented such decisions alone faced prosecution,” said former Special Court chairperson Karki.
He said that Bhattarai and Nepal would continue to face questions about their involvement in the Lalita Niwas scam and they would continue to carry the stain of the scam in the eyes of the general public.
According to the charge sheet, the District Attorney Office has accused the then minister for land reforms and management Chandra Deo Joshi of causing a loss totalling Rs631 million to the state. Likewise, it has charged former ministers including Gachhadar, Shrestha and Sah of causing a loss totalling Rs105.11 million each, by giving approval to transfer the government’s lands in the name of individuals.
The charge sheet states that Sobha Kanta Dhakal and Min Bahadur Gurung, whom the police see as key architects of the scam, have caused a loss of Rs6.84 billion and Rs4.91 billion to the government, respectively, by working to transfer the government-owned lands into the hands of individuals.
They transferred the lands of Lalita Niwas in the names of their own family members and relatives, according to the charge sheet.
The prosecutor has sought recovery of the lands registered in the name of individuals on different dates. According to the charge sheet, the government had lost several plots of lands in 1992 and the prosecutor has sought to recover those lands from 72 owners including individuals, companies and agencies.
The government seeks to recover Lalita Niwas lands from Bhatbhateni Developers Company, DLF Developers, Non Resident Nepali Association, Shobhakant Dhakal, Madhavi Subedi, Uma Kumari Dhakalni, Ram Kumar Subedi, among others, who had received the government-owned lands in early 1990s.
Likewise, the charge sheet also seeks the recovery of several plots of lands that were lost in 2005, 2010 and 2013 due to alleged forgery. Besides recovery of lands, the prosecutor has also 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.