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Nepal graft probe casts shadow on Prachanda’s visit to India

world Updated: Sep 17, 2016 17:15 IST
HT Correspondent

File photo of Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda” waving to the media after he was elected Nepal's prime minister in Kathmandu on August 3, 2016. (Reuters)

A probe ordered by Nepal’s anti-graft watchdog into the alleged embezzlement of more than Rs 6 billion from funds meant for rehabilitating former Maoist guerrillas has cast a shadow on Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda’s visit to India.

In a surprise move, the powerful Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) decided on Friday to launch an investigation into the alleged financial irregularities and summoned top Maoist leaders held responsible for receiving money from the state.

CIAA spokesperson Ganesh Karki did not name the Maoist leaders who would have to appear before the watchdog, but indicated that leaders who received funds from the state and were in charge of cantonments where the guerrillas were housed would have to record their statements in 30 days.

Sources said top Maoist leaders, including party chairman Prachanda, former People’s Liberation Army commander Nanda Bahadur Pun, now the vice president, Krishna Bahadur Mahara, now the deputy prime minister, former PLA deputy commander Janardan Sharma, and former PLA deputy commander Chakrapani Khanal, who is the premier’s chief political advisor, could be questioned.

There was no formal response from the Maoists or Prachanda, who is set to return to Nepal on Sunday.

More than 19,000 former Maoist guerrillas were confined in cantonments as part of the peace process that began in 2006. Some guerrillas joined the army and those considered ineligible were given financial aid as part of a rehabilitation package.

Several complaints were registered with the CIAA about a mismatch in funds released by the state for distribution among the guerrillas and the number of former fighters who actually received the money.

“There is a huge mismatch and differences between the numbers of former combatants and money spent by the state,” said Karki. “So, the constitutional body decided to summon responsible leaders of the Maoist party who received money from the state to take care of the combatants.”

The government released more than Rs 15 billion to manage the cantonments and care for guerrillas who fought in the decade-long civil war, and more than Rs 6 billion was allegedly embezzled, officials said.

According to complaints filed with the CIAA, several thousands of former guerrillas left the cantonments but Maoist leaders continued to receive money form the state in their name.

Maoist leaders, however, had a different take on the probe. Hours before the CIAA’s announcement, the Supreme Court decided to reopen the file on the appointment of Lokman Singh Karki, the head of the watchdog.

Karki, who served as chief secretary under the royal regime until 2006, is considered one of the most powerful bureaucrats in Nepal. Following the restoration of democracy in 2006, he was sacked as he was considered close to deposed King Gynendra Shah.

In 2013, he was appointed chief commissioner of the CIAA, which has sweeping powers to curb graft. His appointment was supported by all major political parties though there was criticism from different quarters because of his controversial background.

His appointment has been challenged in the apex court, which was informed by the government on Wednesday that the file and documents related to Karki’s appointment were lost during last year’s massive earthquake. Describing the government’s response as irresponsible, the court on Friday reopened Karki’s case and said authorities would face action if they failed to produce the documents.

The Supreme Court also said Karki is considered a powerful man in Kathmandu’s elite circles and people often accuse him of running a parallel government. Hours later, the CIAA hurriedly called a news conference and announced it had launched a probe into the alleged embezzlement of funds.

“This is a response to the Supreme Court’s ruling,” said Maoist vice president Narayan Kaji Shrestha, adding the CIAA was pressuring the government and the apex court.