Kathmandu: Over the last few weeks, Nepal’s high-profile politicians are in the news but all for bad reasons. A preliminary investigation by Nepal Police has found that the country’s top politicians, their aides, and relatives, were involved in duping people promising to send them to the United States of America (USA) as Bhutanese refugees.
According to Nepal Police officials, members of the group had collected up to Rs 5 million from a person to verify them as Bhutanese refugees and send them to the USA.
So far, as many as eight persons have been arrested in connection to the fraud. Tek Narayan Pande, then secretary at the Home Ministry, Indrajit Rai, security advisor to the former Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa, Sanu Bhandari of Lalitpur, Keshav Prasad Dulal, former personal secretary of Nepali Congress leader Sujata Koirala, Tanka Kumar Gurung of Panchthar, Sandesh Sharma of Dang, Sagar Rai of Morang and Sandeep Lamichhane, son of Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) secretary Top Bahadur Rayamajhi have already been arrested.
UML leader and former Deputy Prime Minister Top Bahadur Rayamajhi and Neeraj Rai, son of Indrajit Rai, are on the run as of May 8.
Media reports have also indicated that some powerful names including Prem Kumar Rai, the chief commissioner of the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority, could come under the radar of the investigation.
The case apparently has key aspects including the involvement of responsible authority in creating fake documents, the involvement of politicians in such fraud, and the country’s international reputation. According to a Nepal Police source, top politicians, their close aides, and relatives are involved in the fraud racket.
Defending the accused
Following the arrest warrant against UML secretary Top Bahadur Rayamajhi and the alleged link of Prem Kumar Rai to the fraud case, CPN-UML chair KP Sharma Oli has shown his concerns in the investigation process.
On 4 May, KP Sharma Oli criticized the government over the possible arrest of Rayamajhi. “A person who was Deputy Prime Minister cannot go on the run. The government’s attempt to arrest him while on the way is mysterious,” he had claimed.
Rayamajhi is still at large.
Amid the rage on social media and the public sphere that the case must be thoroughly investigated and the guilty must be brought to book, Nepali Congress, whose top leaders have been implicated, has taken no official stand to help the investigating agencies get to the bottom of the case.
As a matter of fact, Congress leaders are pointing fingers at CPN-UML.
New facts have been unfolding in connection to the fraud scam. Audio recordings have indicated the possible involvement of powerful leaders of the Nepali Congress in the scam. Nepal Police has informed that the police are investigating the audio recordings to find the connection between former Home Minister Bal Krishna Khad, his wife and Nepali Congress leader Manju Khad, and another leader Arju Deuba Rana in the scam.
Like UML, Nepali Congress also seems protective of its leaders. Congress president Sher Bahadur Deuba has maintained strategic silence on the issue. General Secretary Gagan Kumar Thapa has demanded action against those involved in the scam but his appeal is limited to social media.
The question is whether Nepali Congress institutionally takes a stand against the crime or not. Insiders say it is less likely that Nepali Congress will take a firm stand and can allow a fair and independent investigation into the issue given the names of the persons accused.
Nepal Tarun Dal, youth wing of NC, has already issued a statement requesting media not to link Bal Krishna Khand to the scam.
On Monday, Press Council Nepal decided to ban National Dainik dot.com, an online portal, across the country in connection with the publication of an audio recording by the portal.
As the main partner of the current coalition government, the investigation will be severely affected if Nepali Congress shows tolerance to the organized crime of human trafficking.
Another crucial dimension of the fraud scam is Nepal’s international reputation. The case has categorically put Nepal’s reputation at stake. The involvement of state’s responsible officials in human trafficking is nothing less than a serious crime.
This is not just another corruption case. It is a serious crime where the state mechanism itself is involved in manufacturing fake refugees. Thus, the scam will have multiple impacts at the international arena. The first is the Nepal-US relationship. The racket of Nepal’s powerful politicians and their aides had duped the citizens by promising them to take them to the USA. This is certainly a matter of concern for the USA. If not investigated properly, the USA might raise the question over the decision of Nepal’s government agencies. This may result in a long-term crisis of the trust between two countries.
The fake Bhutanese refugees episode also undermines the genuine demands of nearly ten million refugees who are made stateless by Bhutan. The scam might further delay their settlement process.
It is clear that this case has drawn national and international attention. Legal experts say that if the government of Nepal cannot thoroughly investigate the case and bring the guilty to book, Nepal’s credibility in the international arena will suffer a huge setback. “This is an organized crime. If Nepali authorities fail to properly investigate the case and punish the people involved in this scam, it will tarnish the reputation of our political class as well as the country in the international arena,” said Chandra Prasad Luitel, who is the advocate at the Supreme Court of Nepal. “It will not stop there,” he warned.
Nepal’s passport is already among the weakest in the world. This case will further weaken the passport.
“The international community will be really alarmed and even those who go to foreign countries for work and studies with genuine authentic documents might be looked at with suspicion.” According to Luitel, the government authorities should leave no stone unturned to investigate the case and punish those found guilty. “This is the most serious case. The government authorities must stand firm to bring the culprits to book,” he said.