No deal yet on high-level gold smuggling probeUML says police bureau might’ve conducted fair probe but fails to clear suspicions that those behind the smuggling won’t be prosecuted.
The formation of a High Level Probe Commission to investigate gold smuggling has become uncertain, with the ruling and opposition parties sharply divided over its jurisdiction.
Efforts to agree on the jurisdiction of the commission failed on Saturday as well as on Sunday as the parties found no meeting point. The differences are whether to further the investigation from the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB)’s probe or conduct a fresh one.
The ruling parties have proposed that the commission would recommend a revision to laws and changes in the existing mechanism for the investigation of such crimes, if necessary. It can also study the CIB’s report and recommend further investigation if any lapses are found in it.
"Starting a fresh investigation bypassing the CIB’s report would give a message of mistrust to the government agency," Ramesh Lekhak, the Nepali Congress chief whip, told the media after the meeting.
The CPN-UML said the CIB might have conducted a fair investigation but has failed to clear its suspicions that those behind the smuggling will not be prosecuted. "We believe only carriers have come under the scanner. By refusing to allow a high-level commission to thoroughly investigate the gold smuggled concealed in brake shoes and electronic cigarettes, it has proved that a section of those involved in the crime has been spared investigation," Mahesh Bartaula, the UML whip present in the negotiation with the ruling parties, told the Post. "The ruling parties don't want to abide by the agreement reached last month."
After rounds of meetings, the ruling and opposition parties on August 22 reached a two-point agreement. This led the UML to end the obstruction of Parliament. The main opposition had been obstructing the proceedings of both the House of Representatives and the National Assembly for nearly a month, demanding the panel to investigate the issue.
As per the first point of the agreement, the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB), which has been studying the gold haul, would continue to have the authority to prosecute all those involved in the crime. Once it submitted its report, an independent and neutral inquiry would be formed on September 22 to investigate repeated cases of gold smuggling thoroughly.
The parties agreed that the commission to be formed as per the Commission of Inquiry Act would submit its recommendations addressing the necessary measures to check the crime, and also a blueprint for investigating such cases.
"There is no point forming a high-level commission that cannot conduct a detailed probe," said Bartaula, stressing the need for a fair investigation of the recent smuggling incidents.
He said the ruling party leaders suspected to be involved in gold smuggling have been spared. On December 25 last year, the airport customs office seized electronic cigarettes used to smuggle gold concealed in them.
Police found that the former Speaker and CPN (Maoist Centre) Vice-chair Krishna Bahadur Mahara and his son were in regular contact with a Chinese national who was allegedly smuggling gold through consignments of electric cigarette imports. Images of the alleged smuggler pictured with former Vice President Nanda Bahadur Pun and Maoist Centre leader Barsha Man Pun were widely circulated on social media.