Sitting, ex-Pashupati officials charged with corruptionThey are accused of mishandling 1.49 kg gold while installing a golden cover at the base of Shivalinga.
The Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority on Sunday filed corruption cases at the Special Court against three current and former officials of the Pashupati Area Development Trust over the alleged misuse of gold while laying the peethikakavach, a gold sheet covering for the base of the main Shivalinga at the Pashupatinath Temple.
Peethikakavach gathers and channels liquid offerings like water and milk made to the Shivalinga. But most reports including government ones have wrongly mentioned it as jalahari, which is in fact a vessel with a hole at the bottom that is placed above the Shivalinga to make water offering.
The anti-graft body said in a statement on Sunday that cases were filed against the then member secretary of the Trust Pradeep Dhakal, current member secretary Milan Kumar Thapa, who was then treasurer at the Trust, and storekeeper Arun Kumar Shrestha.
They have been accused of misappropriating 1.491kg of gold valued at Rs11.70 million in the course of installing the peethikakavach. The amount was fixed based on the market price of gold on February 11, 2021, when it was purchased.
In January 2021, the then prime minister KP Sharma Oli had announced to provide Rs300 million to the temple to install the gold peethikakavach and the Ministry of Culture accordingly released the money.
On February 11, 2021, the Trust had purchased 103.773 kg of gold from the Nepal Rastra Bank for the purpose. The purchased gold contained pure gold weighing as much as 102.614kg.
According to the CIAA, after deducting impurities weighing 73.88 grams, it found the actual amount of pure gold used in peethikakavach came to 101.048 kg. And, the anti-graft body is suing them for the missing 1.491 kg.
“As the investigation found clear differences between the procured gold and the gold used in peethikakavach, we filed corruption cases against them,” said Bhola Dahal, the CIAA spokesman.
The CIAA blamed the then member secretary Dhakal and then treasurer Thapa, who was also the coordinator of the peethikakavach installation committee, for their failure to protect the gold in their custody. The anti-graft body also accused them of handing over the task of making the ornamental covering to people who had little expertise in the craft.
A rolling mill based in Patan Durbar Square was tasked with crafting the peethikakavach although it had no licence to do so, according to CIAA.
While talking about the role of Dhakal and Thapa, the CIAA has pointed out their suspicious activities.
In the chargesheet, the anti-graft body, citing the then co-treasurer of the Trust, Basudev Rimal, has claimed that at 11 pm on February 23, 2021, the accused officials prepared a report attesting to the presence of a total of 109.76 kg of gold including small amounts of other metals like copper and tin that were mixed with the gold to make it harder. Their report also said the peethikakavach weighing 96.822kg, barring the gold band and a few gold nails, was installed on the Shivalinga, according to the chargesheet.
Dhakal and Thapa then allegedly took out the gold from the safe box at the Trust’s store on March 4, 2021, without documentation, and provided a portion to the Silver Rolling Service to prepare the gold band for the Shivalinga.
Storekeeper Shrestha has been accused of dereliction of duty for allowing Dhakal and Thapa to take away the gold without documentation.
After complaints were registered at the CIAA, the anti-graft body launched an investigation into the matter. In June this year, the CIAA took out the peethikakavach from the Shivalinga and weighed it and found that there was a small difference between the documented and actual weights, according to reports.
According to the CIAA, the total gold was 107.46kg, which is close to 107.92kg, the weight stated in the Trust document.
Earlier, in April, the Office of the Auditor General in its 59th annual report had also flagged the peethikakavach installation process as being non-transparent.
The Auditor General’s report citing the Trust’s document said Trust officials had purchased 103.77kg of pure gold from the Nepal Rastra Bank for Rs801.10 million. Then 2.89kg of copper, 1.249kg silver, 12.75gm zinc was mixed to the gold, taking the total weight to 107.924gm. These metals are added to the pure gold to make the gold harder and more durable.
Of the total gold used in the peethikakavach, 96.822kg was used for the peethikakavach proper while a golden band covering it weighed 10.976kg. “The Trust, however, failed to provide details of whether the gold that remained after the installation of the peethikavach was then used for making the gold band,” the Auditor General’s report said.
Likewise, the Trust also failed to follow the Pashupati Area Development Trust (Second Amendment) Regulations while remunerating the artisans who made the peethikakavach, according to the apex audit body.
As per the regulations, the board meeting of the Trust decided to provide wages to the artisans directly from donors. Instead, they should have been paid by the Trust after receiving donations in its own bank account.
There are no records of the monetary contributions received for crafting the peethikakavach, which was carried out at a rolling mill at Patan Durbar Square. “But the Trust failed to produce the contract document signed with the rolling mill and details of the payments made to the 13 craftsmen,” the report added.