Nepal: Two former premiers interrogated in land-grab scam
The interrogation of Nepal and Bhattarai happened on Sunday night in connection with the ongoing investigation into the scam, the Central Investigation Bureau said.
(L-R) Former Nepali prime ministers Madhav Kumar Nepal (Photo by PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP via Getty Images) and Baburam Bhattarai (Photo credit should read PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/GettyImages)
THE top investigating agency of Nepal has interrogated two of its former prime ministers for the first time for their alleged role in a high-profile land grab scam, it said on Monday (21).
The Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) spoke to Madhav Kumar Nepal (served between 2009-11) and Baburam Bhattarai (2011-13) in connection to the Lalita Niwas land-grab scam which took place during both the former premiers’ tenures as the cabinet headed by them took policy-level decisions on the matter.
The interrogation of Nepal and Bhattarai happened on Sunday night in connection with the ongoing investigation into the scam, the CIB spokesperson Navaraj Adhikari said. Statements of both the leaders were recorded, something the agency did for the first time.
It is alleged that a huge area of valuable land belonging to the government was grabbed by some brokers with the help of senior government officials and some politicians by creating fictitious owners. The land lies adjoining the prime minister’s official residence at Baluwatar in Kathmandu, the national capital.
Madhav Kumar Nepal is currently the chair of the CPN (Unified Socialist) party, while Bhattarai heads the Nepal Samajbadi Party.
Lalita Niwas covers some 300 ropanis (around 37 acres) of land and includes the prime minister’s residence, Nepal Rastra Bank central office and some other residences of key government officials, according to a report in The Kathmandu Post newspaper.
There are allegations that the Nepal cabinet had allowed the transfer of government land to individuals. The former Bhattarai cabinet allowed the registration of the land in the name of a fake trust named Pashupati Tikinchha Guthi.
On February 5, 2020, Nepal’s Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority brought corruption charges against 175 individuals in connection with the land grab.
However, the constitutional anti-graft body had spared a number of key people, including Nepal and Bhattarai, even though it admitted that the decisions to illegally transfer the government land into private hands were taken during their tenures.
The CIAA had said that the former prime ministers were not implicated as the decisions were the cabinet’s policy decisions, over which it has no jurisdiction. Policy decisions refer to decisions made by political parties based on their election manifestos, based on which they contest elections.
The commission did not implicate Nepal and Bhattarai based on Section 4 of the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority Act, which says the anti-graft body cannot investigate “policy decisions” of the cabinet or the committees under it.
However, earlier this month, while hearing a habeas corpus petition filed by Yograj Paudel, a former civil servant arrested in connection with the scam, Nepal’s Supreme Court had directed the authorities concerned to bring the prime ministers who headed the government during the transfer of the government land in the name of individuals in the Lalita Niwas case. The division bench of justices Anil Kumar Sinha and Kumar Chudal said that no one involved in making decisions relating to the transfer of land should be spared from the investigation, according to a report in MyRepublica news portal.
“As the investigation so far focused only on the employees of the assigned level of work and those who purchased land, while leaving out those who made decisions or participated in the decision-making process from the scope of the investigation, it also put the public trust in the entire judicial system at risk,” the apex court has mentioned in its order.
Meanwhile, taking to X, formerly Twitter, Bhattarai wrote, “I have fulfilled my duty by providing accurate information to the CIB in accordance with my public commitment from the beginning regarding inquiries raised about the decisions made by my Cabinet in the Lalita Niwas land-grab scam.”
“I hope that this case will serve as a catalyst to eliminate all forms of corruption and irregularities within the nation, thereby ensuring good governance,” he wrote.
The CIB has already taken over a dozen people, including high government officials, into custody in the case.
(With PTI inputs)