UML’s Oli objects to the arrest warrant against RayamajhiPolice say the arrest of the party secretary and former minister was delayed due to political pressure.
CPN-UML chair and former prime minister KP Sharma Oli on Thursday objected to the issuance of an arrest warrant against Top Bahadur Rayamajhi, his party’s secretary. Rayamajhi has been implicated in a scam whereby Nepali nationals would be sent to the United States as Bhutanese refugees. Rayamajhi is also a lawmaker from Arghakhanchi.
The Kathmandu District Court on Wednesday issued separate arrest warrants against Rayamajhi and his son, Sandeep. Using his father’s influence, Sandeep would allegedly prepare fake refugee documents in collusion with government officials and had accepted Rs10 million in bribes. Rayamajhi denies the charge.
“He has been absconding since Thursday morning and is out of contact,” said one investigating police officer, adding, “but we will hunt him down.”
Calls have been growing from various walks of life to thoroughly investigate the scam and punish all those involved.
One UML office bearer told the Post that no decision has been made to suspend Rayamajhi from the party secretary as top leaders are looking to see how the investigation proceeds.
The issue will be discussed in the upcoming party meeting in Jhapa, the leader added.
Oli, after a meeting with Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal on Thursday, told journalists that Rayamajhi had contacted Nepal Police Inspector General Basanta Bahadur Kunwar on Wednesday evening and inquired about the arrest warrant against him.
But he has been absconding since Thursday morning and has not reported to the police, said officials.
“We were all set to arrest Rayamajhi from Arghakhanchi on Wednesday evening, but had to abandon our plan due to political pressure,” said another officer of the Kathmandu Metropolitan Police Range. He said the police can apprehend him after officially informing the Parliament Secretariat about the arrest warrant.
The constitution allows a lawmaker’s arrest on a criminal charge.
Article 103 (6) says no member of Parliament shall be arrested between the date of issuance of the summons for a session and the date on which that session closes. But the same clause adds that nothing in the clause prevents an arrest if the charge against the lawmaker is criminal and the official making such arrest informs the House.
Police have yet to inform the Speaker of the House of Representatives about the court’s arrest warrant against Rayamajhi.
The chief of Kathmandu District Police Office, Dan Bahadur Karki, said they were trying to locate Rayamajhi.
Rayamaji has already admitted to his links with Keshav Dulal and Sanu Bhandari who have already been arrested in connection with the scam. Dulal, Bhandari and three others had collected between Rs1–5 million per head from Nepalis aspiring to go to the US as Bhutanese refugees. They had taken money from 875 individuals.
Oli, during his meeting with Prime Minister Dahal on Thursday, reportedly objected to the way Rayamajhi was “being hounded by the police”.
“Rayamajhi is not a suspicious character who would evade arrest,” Oli told the media. “There must be some conspiracy behind the attempt to arrest him.”
Rayamajhi’s son Sandeep was caught on Wednesday evening from Butwal and was brought to Kathmandu. The Kathmandu District Court has remanded him to three days in judicial custody for investigation.
“He [Rayamajhi] is a member of Parliament, has already served as minister on several occasions and even became a deputy prime minister. Why they are conspiring to arrest him from the streets … is a mystery,” Oli told the media after his meeting with the prime minister. “He is not going anywhere.”
But Prime Minister Dahal made no promises to Oli, an official at the prime minister’s private secretariat said.
So far, a total nine people including Tek Narayan Pandey, a former Home secretary who is currently deputed to the Vice President’s Office, have been arrested in connection to the scam. The police are now searching for Rayamajhi and Niraj Rai, the son of Indrajeet Rai, who is thought to be out of the country. Indrajeet had served as security adviser to the then home minister Ram Bahadur Thapa in 2020. Indrajeet is now in police custody after police identified him as the kingpin of the refugee scam.
Oli told the media on Thursday that he spoke to Rayamajhi after the court had issued a warrant against the latter.
The ongoing arrests are part of an investigation started by the home ministry and Nepal Police on June 14, 2022 against a gang involved in swindling individuals out of millions of rupees by promising to send them to the US as Bhutanese refugees.
The group had allegedly been scamming people for years.
The government action was in response to a case filed by the victims at the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority against the group a few months earlier. The case was brought to the Kathmandu Valley Crime Division only in June 2022 after which the investigation was launched.
According to police, the suspects have admitted to having collected between one to five million rupees per head from many Nepalis aspiring to go to the US.
Oli said while he was in favour of punishing the guilty, “the innocent should not be punished”. He added that the UML itself is also looking into the matter to see if the charge against its leader is fabricated.