CIAA to drag 52 to court on Rs 790m graft charge

CIAA to drag 52 to court on Rs 790m graft charge

The Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority has decided to drag to court 52 individuals, including two sitting government secretaries and suspended Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) chief Subas Nirola, for allegedly embezzling Rs790 million while at the board.

After almost year-long probe into the irregularities at the NTB, a meeting of the anti-graft body on Thursday decided to file a corruption case against them. This is the first high-profile case prepared by the CIAA after Lokman Singh Karki took its helm about two years ago.

A 520-page charge sheet has been prepared against Forest Secretary Sharad Chandra Poudel and Law Commission Secretary Ranjan Krishna Aryal, including Joint-secretary Dilli Prasad Shiwakoti. The commission has accused Nirola of embezzling Rs330 million in procurements, according to CIAA Joint-spokesperson Keshav Ghimire.

Poudel was on the NTB board while he served the Department of Immigration as its director general, and Aryal was an invitee member on the board in the capacity of the joint-secretary at the Tourism Ministry. Shiwakoti is a joint-secretary at the Finance Ministry.

The board consists of 11 members—five representing the government, five from the private sector and the chairman. “Almost all the members who served alongside Nirola have been charge-sheeted,” said an official at the Special Court, who saw the charge sheet on Thursday evening.

The bid to register the case in court did not materialise on Thursday due to time constraints. A CIAA team that reached the court at around 4:15pm had to return without filing the case after Registrar Natibabu Lamichhane refused to register the case.

“I have to put my signature at the top and bottom of each of the 520 pages. So I asked them to come tomorrow,” said Lamichhane.

The CIAA has decided to register the case on Friday afternoon. “We were not able to file the case on Thursday and would be visiting the Court on Friday,” said CIAA Joint-spokesperson Ghimire.

Corruption at the Board came to light after the amended financial bylaws of NTB granted sweeping powers to its chief, Nirola, who was already accused of misappropriating funds while procuring goods. The amendments allowed the NTB to award contracts without competitive bidding. Also, the CEO was thus authorised to spend up to Rs10 million at a time for tourism promotion activities inside the country.

Based on complaints, the government had formed a probe panel headed by Joint-secretary Purna Chandra Bhattarai. The committee mandated to look into the irregularities and consequences of the revision in NTB chief’s powers had also found the involvement of then Tourism Secretary Sushil Ghimire in amending the bylaws in violation of the Public Procurement Act.

The report said the NTB was marred by policy and financial irregularities. It had exposed that the NTB’s 192nd board meeting chaired by then-Secretary Ghimire had passed a Rs74 million budget while its actual requirement was only Rs12.1 million. The partial budget agreed to by the meeting had been passed illegally without a quorum.

The extra funds were used to pay the salaries of 26 personal security guards hired by Nirola. The decisions were taken a day before Ghimire—the secretary at the Tourism Ministry—was due to retire.

Source: eKantipur