Sacked Karnali minister has a long business and political historyA week after the court’s arrest order, police fail to locate the whereabouts of Khadka Bahadur Khatri, who has connections with the NCP leadership.
Khadka Bahadur Khatri was the minister for physical infrastructure development in Karnali Province until last week. He was sacked after the revelation of his involvement in a banking offence case. The Patan High Court has ordered his arrest but his whereabouts are not known. The judges’ deadline to produce him before the court also has passed.
Now questions are being asked who Khadka Bahadur Khatri is.
Khatri has a long political and business history, according to multiple people the Post spoke to.
His career as a contractor and a politician began long before the restoration of democracy in 1990.
Khatri from Bheriganga Municipality-11, Surkhet, owned a huge clothing store before he made his foray into the construction sector, according to Tilakram Dangi, the Ward 11 chairperson of the municipality.
He once contested the polls for Pradhan Pancha (the village chief) during the Panchayat days, but was defeated by a small margin, according to Dangi, a local leader of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP).
After the restoration of democracy, Khatri joined then CPN-UML, which last year merged with the Maoist Centre to form the Nepal Communist Party, and slowly rose through the ranks to become a district-level leader.
He was elected chairman of the Ramghat Village Development Committee, which currently falls under Bheriganga Municipality, in the local elections of 1992 and 1997 on the then UML’s ticket.
As a businessman, he enjoyed quite some influence in the region. He was also popular as a volleyball player.
Even after his election as the VDC chairman, Khatri continued his profession as a contractor and a businessman. He was involved in many development projects around the village in the past where his track record has remained good, according to Dangi.
After his tenure of VDC chairman ended in 2002, he largely remained inactive in the party. He focused more on his business, according to party leaders.
According to Dhurba Shahi, the Surkhet District Committee president of the ruling Nepal Communist Party, Khatri was never active in party committees. But despite that, he was given a ticket to contest the provincial elections from Surkhet-1 (B) in the 2017 elections.
“Although there were a number of aspirants for the ticket, he was chosen in consensus believing that he could win the vote,” said Shahi. Many speculate that he was given the ticket because of his financial contribution to the party. Shahi, however, dismissed such claims.
He won the elections and went on to become a minister in the provincial government.
Many say Khatri enjoys good relations with Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli.
Even after becoming the minister, Khatri continued his construction business. His company, KSK Construction, a ‘B’ class construction company, in Surkhet, undertook a number of projects under his own ministry, in a clear case of conflict of interests.
His company is reportedly working on over a dozen contracts under the Water Resources and Irrigation Development Division of his ministry.
Of them, seven contracts were awarded to his company before the division came under the provincial government. After he assumed office, the ministry awarded his company four contracts—Chingadkhola Control Project, Itramkhola Control Project, Sotkhola Control Project and Bheri River Control Project.
Another three road projects under the Division Road Office, Surkeht where his company was involved as a contractor, were also brought under his ministry after the handover of these projects to the provincial government.
“His performance in the road projects over the years has remained mixed,” an official at the Division Road Office, Surkhet, told the Post.
Khatri, however, has not been charged with banking offence in the capacity of the proprietor of KSK Construction. He is facing the banking offence charges as a shareholder of MK Nirman Sewa, whose joint venture with YP Construction had got the contract of improving the Bhojpur Taskar-Gogane-Lekkharka Road.
Even a week after the court’s arrest order, police say they have yet to locate Khatri’s whereabouts.
Police said they are searching for Khatri after he failed to appear before the court on Sunday, the deadline set by the court. He failed to appear before the court even on Monday, according to court officials.
Last Tuesday, a joint bench of Judges Srikanta Poudel and Tek Prasad Dhungana had issued an order in the name of police through the Special Government Attorney’s Office to present Khatri before the court within three days. Due to holidays in between, he was supposed to appear at the court on Sunday.
Police didn’t submit Khatri to the court after arresting him citing that the court order didn’t categorically instruct the police to arrest him.
But on Monday, Superintendent of Police Deepak Regmi of the Central Investigation Bureau of Police told the Post that the CIB would arrest him if he continues to avoid court.
“It is a criminal case and we will arrest him if he does not appear before the court even without a specific court order to arrest him,” said Regmi.
A court official told the Post on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media that a CIB officer, in fact, had communicated to court officials about the arrest of Khatri after the court issued the order.
“I cannot say why the police are saying they have not arrested Khatri,” said the official.
However, Regmi, who is also the CIB spokesperson, denied that Khatri was in custody.
Some four days ago, Khatri had apparently told Dhurba Shahi, the Surkhet District Committee president of the ruling communist party, that he was in Kathmandu.
“Since then I have not had any contact with him,” Shahi told the Post.
Khatri is among the five individuals who have been accused of providing a fake bank guarantee of Rs10.1 million to the District Technical Office Bhojpur to get advance mobilisation—a payment given to the contractor to start work.
As per the charge sheet, they were involved in creating two separate advance payment guarantees of the Agriculture Development Bank worth Rs5.55 million and Rs5.53 million and presenting them to the District Technical Office Bhojpur on June 10 and November 4, 2016, respectively.
The government recently filed a banking offence case against Khatri, Raju Prasad Shrestha, Chhabi Lal Dhakal, Randhir Tumba and Dev Jung Shahi in connection with the case.
By submitting the fake bank guarantee, Tumba had received Rs5.53 million and Shahi Rs5.55 million from the Bhojpur District Technical Office, according to the charge-sheet. The amount was transferred to a joint account of five defendants at the Rastriya Banijya Bank, Bhojpur, which they used for themselves, the charge says.