Congress dissidents join UML to demand high-level gold probeSome experts, however, fear if such a panel doesn’t have honest professionals, police investigation could be derailed.
After the main opposition CPN-UML, a faction of the ruling Nepali Congress has also demanded a high-level probe panel to investigate the cases of gold smuggling.
This development is likely to build pressure on the ruling coalition, which was rejecting the opposition’s demand for such a probe saying that the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) of Nepal Police was already looking into the issue and that the police branch was more than capable of carrying out the investigation.
Shekhar Koirala, who leads the rival faction in the largest party, joined the main opposition in demanding the powerful inquiry committee saying that it was essential to curb gold smuggling in Nepal.
“The prime minister’s personal secretary was appointed as the chief of the Department of Revenue Investigation…Soon after he assumed the position, the gold was seized, but the prime minister refused to allow the CIB to investigate the matter,” a lawmaker quoted Koirala as saying at the Congress parliamentary party meeting on Sunday. “We all know what happened after that. Nepal has already become a hub of gold smuggling. To stop this, an investigation should be carried out by a high-level probe panel.”
He said the party should seriously consider the option.
Koirala has been criticising the government on various issues and his statement on the probe panel has come at a time when one of the Congress lawmakers, Sunil Sharma, who is considered to be from the Koirala-led faction, was arrested on charge of using a fake academic certificate to pursue medical studies.
Sharma and some UML leaders have been claiming that he was arrested after he criticised Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Narayan Kaji Shrestha and Finance Minister Prakash Sharan Mahat, and asked for their resignation.
A few days ahead of his arrest, Sharma, while airing his views in the House of Representatives, had fiercely criticised the home and finance ministers arguing that both of them should be held responsible for the smuggling of such a large quantity of gold through the country’s only international airport.
Not only Koirala, another Congress lawmaker Pradip Paudel has also demanded a high-level probe saying a quintal of gold cannot be smuggled without the involvement of top government officials and authorities.
The main opposition, CPN-UML, has been obstructing federal Parliament meetings for weeks to press its demand for a high-level probe. The party’s leaders have been claiming that they don’t trust government agencies including the Central Investigation Bureau of Nepal Police to probe the smuggling as they have not interrogated Maoist Centre leaders including its vice-chair Krishna Bahadur Mahara, who has been accused of being in constant touch with those implicated in several cases of gold smuggling.
UML chair KP Sharma Oli, organising a press conference at the party office on Sunday, fiercely criticised the government for not investigating Mahara in connection with the nine-kg gold smuggling case earlier this year.
Oli termed Home Minister Shrestha’s actions ‘public stunts’ and demanded his resignation.
UML has been insisting on a high-level probe panel led by a former judge and comprising independent investigating officials with a powerful mandate to interrogate politicians and other top officials. But leaders from the ruling Nepali Congress and Maoist Centre have said that they are ready to form a parliamentary panel to investigate the matter, if need be, but the CIB should be allowed to conduct the initial investigation.
Former prime minister Oli, however, argued that a parliamentary probe panel, which would be dominated by the ruling parties, would be inappropriate for such an investigation. “They will appoint the chair and also have a majority in the committee,” said Oli. “They will spend a few days making inquiries and will say that the smuggling case was nothing but a scheme devised by the opposition.”
Therefore, he said, the probe panel should be led by a serving or a former judge.
But the ruling parties reject the idea of setting up a high-level probe panel.
“There is no such possibility as of now,” Hitraj Pande, chief whip of the CPN (Maoist Centre) told the Post.
When it comes to a high-powered committee, experts, the Post talked to, have mixed opinions. They said high-level committees were formed also in the past to probe major crimes—with mixed outcomes.
Such a committee or commission could intervene in police investigation, they said, adding that there should be a clear demarcation of the jurisdictions of such committees and the police.
Former Deputy Inspector General of Police Ramesh Kharel earlier this month told the Post that a high-powered committee of experts and ‘honest people’ could help the police investigation.
But he at the same time thinks that if the committee doesn’t have honest and professional people, it could derail the police investigation also.
Former DIG Hemanta Malla Thakuri fears a parallel probe could derail the investigation. Malla recalls how the investigation into the Nirmala Pant rape and murder case was further complicated due to the involvement of multiple stakeholders. “So if any committee is formed [to investigate the recent gold haul], it should steer clear of the jurisdiction of the police,” he told the Post.
Political analyst Jhalak Subedi, however, termed the demand of the main opposition and the dissident Congress leaders as a move to invite instability to the country and prove that the government was failing.
“The government won’t form a powerful high-level probe panel to investigate itself. But it may eventually agree to the formation of a parliamentary probe without affecting the ongoing investigation by the CIB,” said Subedi. “Actually the leaders of the UML and even some Congress ones want to show that neither the government nor Parliament are functional.”
Former Additional Inspector General of Nepal Police Pushkar Karki said it is good to form a high-level probe panel including experts that could probe incidents of gold smuggling, but the problem is that similar panels have failed to carry out their duties in the past.
He said even if the parties agree to form a separate panel, it is a government mechanism like the CIB that takes the case to court.