Nepal’s biggest scam pits police against politicians

KATHMANDU: In an unprecedented move, Nepal’s top police officials, disgraced in a UN security equipment sale scandal, are lobbying for action against politicians, deepening the wedge between cops and their political masters.Fifteen senior police officials, some of whom are retired and some suspended, Monday knocked on the door of the chief of a parliamentary committee, saying they were framed and seeking action against former ministers and their accomplices in the bureaucracy.The cops’ campaign started last week after a commission charged 36 people, including 34 top police officials, with corruption in a procurement deal that cost Nepal, one of the poorest nations in the world, a loss of over NRS 288 million and put the lives of hundreds of Nepali policemen at risk.The tainted deal goes back to 2007-08 when the then Girija Prasad Koirala government bought armoured personnel carriers from a London-based company, Assured Risk, for use by Nepali policemen serving with the UN Peacekeeping Forces in the Darfur region of Sudan.The carriers were found to be substandard by the UN and ruled out for use. The ensuing hue and cry forced Nepal’s government to conduct an inquiry that found the then home minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula to be involved in the tainted deal.After trying to sweep the scam under the carpet for months, the government was finally compelled to take action this month. However, the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority charged only34 police officials and two civilians with corruption, failing to touch Sitaula, a senior leader of the opposition Nepali Congress party, and his two successors.The 34 indicted police officials include three former police chiefs, one of whom became the prime minister’s security advisor, and 24 serving officials, who were suspended.

This has triggered chaos in the police department, with morale hitting an all-time low. Many suspended officials say they did not know what was happening but were made to sign documents blindly by their seniors.Sitaula denies any involvement in the tainted deal; so does the then home secretary Umesh Mainali. This has enraged the suspended police officials who Monday told parliamentary committee chief Ramnath Dhakal that it was inconceivable that the home minister had no knowledge of the deal or hand in it. If found guilty, the indicted officials face up to 13 years in prison and hefty fines to recover the embezzled sum from them.Besides the cops, the commission has also charged Assured Risk and its local agent in Kathmandu, a Nepali national named Shambhu Bharati. Assured Risk denies that its vehicles were substandard, instead accusing Nepali officials of causing them damage due to gross negligence. The Sudan scam exposes like never before the criminalisation of politics in Nepal with politicians and their associates remaining above law.Currently, Prime Minister Jhala Nath Khanal himself is accused of sheltering a party member who ordered a murderous attack on a journalist in eastern Nepal. – Dailytimes