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Nepal’s central probe agency interrogates 2 former prime ministers in Lalita Niwas land grab scam

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KATHMANDU, Aug 21 (PTI): Nepal’s top probe agency has interrogated former prime ministers
Madhav Kumar Nepal and Baburam Bhattarai for the first time for their alleged roles in the high-
profile Lalita Niwas land grab scam, the investigative agency said on Monday.
The land grab scam took place during the prime ministerships of Nepal and Bhattarai, as the Cabinet
headed by them made policy-level decisions in the matter.
Nepal and Bhattarai were interrogated on Sunday night in connection with the ongoing investigation
into the scam, the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) spokesperson Navaraj Adhikari said.
It is alleged that a huge area of valuable land belonging to the government was grabbed by some
brokers with the help of senior government officials and some politicians by creating fictitious
owners.
The CBI officials of the Nepal Police have recorded the statements from Nepal and Bhattarai in
connection with the land-grab scam involving valuable land pieces adjoining the Prime Minister’s
official residence at Baluwatar in Kathmandu, he said.
This is the first time that the CIB has taken statements from the former prime ministers in the case.
Madhav Kumar Nepal is currently the chair of the CPN (Unified Socialist) party, while Bhattarai heads
the Nepal Samajbadi Party. Nepal was prime minister from May 25, 2009 to February 6, 2011,
whereas Bhattarai was prime minister from August 29, 2011 to March 14, 2012.
Lalita Niwas covers some 300 ropanis (around 37 acres) of land and includes the prime minister’s
residence, Nepal Rastra Bank central office and some other residences of key government officials,
according to a report in The Kathmandu Post newspaper.
There are allegations that the Nepal Cabinet had allowed the transfer of government land to
individuals. And the Bhattarai Cabinet allowed the registration of the land in the name of a fake trust
named Pashupati Tikinchha Guthi.
On February 5, 2020, the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) brought
corruption charges against 175 individuals in connection with the land grab.
However, the constitutional anti-graft body had spared a number of key people, including former
prime ministers Nepal and Bhattarai, even though it admitted that the decisions to illegally transfer
the government land into private hands were taken during their tenures.
The CIAA had said that the former prime ministers were not implicated as the decisions were the
Cabinet’s policy decisions, over which it has no jurisdiction. Policy decisions refer to decisions made
by political parties based on their election manifestos, based on which they contest elections.
The commission did not implicate Nepal and Bhattarai based on Section 4 of the Commission for
Investigation of Abuse of Authority Act, which says the anti-graft body cannot investigate “policy
decisions” of the Cabinet or the committees under it.
However, earlier this month, while hearing a habeas corpus petition filed by Yograj Paudel, a former
civil servant arrested in connection with the scam, Nepal’s Supreme Court had directed the
authorities concerned to bring the prime ministers who headed the government during the transfer
of the government land in the name of individuals in the Lalita Niwas case.
The division bench of justices Anil Kumar Sinha and Kumar Chudal said that no one involved in
making decisions relating to the transfer of land should be spared from the investigation, according
to a report in MyRepublica news portal.
“As the investigation so far focused only on the employees of the assigned level of work and those
who purchased land, while leaving out those who made decisions or participated in the decision-
making process from the scope of the investigation, it also put the public trust in the entire judicial
system at risk,” the apex court has mentioned in its order.
Meanwhile, taking to X, formerly Twitter, former Prime Minister Bhattarai wrote, “I have fulfilled my
duty by providing accurate information to the CIB in accordance with my public commitment from
the beginning regarding inquiries raised about the decisions made by my Cabinet in the Lalita Niwas
land-grab scam.”

“I hope that this case will serve as a catalyst to eliminate all forms of corruption and irregularities
within the nation, thereby ensuring good governance,” he wrote.
The CIB has already taken over a dozen people, including high government officials, into custody in
the case.

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The Hills Times, a largely circulated English daily published from Diphu and printed in Guwahati, having vast readership in hills districts of Assam, and neighbouring Nagaland, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur
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