Nepal gets Gold Medal for corruption

There is national consensus among politicians only when it comes to protecting each other from prosecution


On 18 July, the Department of Revenue raided the cargo terminal at Kathmandu airport and seized 61kg of gold being smuggled in from Hong Kong hidden inside brake shoes of two-wheelers. Although this was the biggest haul of contraband gold in the country’s sordid history, it emerged that the smugglers had already carried out similar jobs dozens of times before.

In the days following the raid, Nepal Police arrested 21 individuals involved, including customs officials, Chinese and Indian nationals, and middlemen. Top politicians and their cronies who were the alleged masterminds were not touched.

The names included former Maoist minister Barshaman Pun, former speaker Onsari Gharti Magar, the family of former vice-president Nanda Kishor Pun, and Maoist Centre vice-chair Krishna Bahadur Mahara and his son.

Mahara was also said to be involved in another gold smuggling operation in December 2022 in which a Chinese national was found to have brought in gold concealed inside e-cigarettes at the airport

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Investigative journalists then uncovered Mahara & Son trying to pressure officials to release the gold for auction. The Maoist leader has denied being involved, but police have phone records to prove otherwise. Meantime, the gold itself has vanished from storage. 

The stench from scam after scam this year has become unbearable. If this was an international tournament, Nepal should get the Gold Medal for corruption. And these are just the scandals that we know about, away from the spotlight there is rampant extortion by politicians and bureaucrats of businesses throughout the land.

Interestingly, not a single politician from the Maoist party of Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal and Home Minister Narayan Kaji Shrestha is behind bars. Nepali Congress (NC), opposition UML and Maoist defectors are in jail for the fake Bhutanese refugee scandal. The Lalita Niwas real estate scam has implicated just about everyone, even those who bought the property. But no Maoists. 

Since senior figures from all three main parties are now entangled in one scandal or the other, a devious effort is afoot to protect each other from prosecution. It seems Nepal’s feuding politicians can only agree to scratching each other’s backs during their three-party meetings to discuss the UML obstruction of the house over the gold smuggling case.

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NC president Sher Bahadur Deuba has continuously and blatantly blocked attempts to investigate his wife Arzoo Rana in the refugee scam, and pressured Prime Minister Dahal this week to transfer Kathmandu Valley police chief AIG Shyam Gyawali, SSP Manoj KC of the Kathmandu Valley Crime Investigation Office, and Chief of Kathmandu Police SSP Dan Bahadur Karki. Dahal was only too happy to oblige since his comrades were also knee-deep in scandals.

The move has blindsided Home Minister Shrestha and brought into question his public commitment to rid the country of corruption. 

As it stands, Nepal’s jumbo coalition government is held together only by mutual distrust. Deuba and other parties of the coalition are keeping close watch so Dahal does not direct ongoing investigations towards their own leadership in retaliation. And Dahal needs Deuba so he can remain in power to continue to loot in cahoots with cronies.

Nepal’s Supreme Court also ordered investigations into CPN (Unified Socialist) chair Madhav Kumar Nepal and Nepal Socialist Party head Baburam Bhattarai in the Lalita Niwas scam, but that has not gone anywhere. Both parties are in the coalition.

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Meanwhile, the government has concluded that the Gaur Massacre does not need an investigation. Dozens of Maoist cadres were brutally massacred in a 2007 confrontation. But since Upendra Yadav who was said to have masterminded it is now a key member of the ruling coalition, Dahal is willing to let bygones be bygones.

While scandals are erupting thick and fast, the Maoists are mum about their own embezzlement 15 years ago of billions meant for their former guerrillas in UN-supervised demobilisation camps whose numbers they have admitted to inflating.

Even as the Prime Minister and the Home Minister keep giving speeches saying the rule of law applies to all equally, it looks like some are more equal than others. With a few exceptions, none of the big fish have been netted, and even those who have could now be let go because investigating officers have been removed and replaced with yes men. 

Early on, it really did look like Home Minister Shrestha, the CIB and the Police were going after the big crooks, and that this would deter thievery. Alas, that was wishful thinking. The politicisation of crime and criminalisation of politics is now complete.

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