Amidst a lot of public pressure, the process of investigation into the fake Bhutanese refugee scam has been gathering pace. The police have so far made one dozen arrests, including some high-profile ones, as part of their crackdown on this organised crime. Former home minister Bal Krishna Khand, erstwhile home secretary Tek Narayan Pandey and security advisor to the then home minister Ram Bahadur Thapa ‘Badal, Indra Jit Rai, are among those detained in this connection. Some middlemen associated with the illegal racket like Keshab Dulal, Sandesh Sharma, Sagar Rai, Sanu Bhandari and Tanka Gurung have also been in police custody. Having close nexus with politicians and government officials, those miscreants have been found swindling tens of millions of rupees from about 900 individuals, promising to send them to the United States for settlement as Bhutanese refugees.
Based on the complaints filed by many victims and the information given by these middlemen, the police administration has accelerated their efforts to catch influential politicians, high-ranking government officials and others for their suspected involvement in this crime against the state. An arrest warrant has already been issued against main opposition CPN-UML’s secretary Top Bahadur Rayamajhi as well for his alleged involvement in the fraud. Rayamajhi, who is also a member of the House of Representatives, is at large. Immediately after the issuance of the warrant, he is reported to have assured that he would give in to the investigation unit and cooperate with the police inquiry. But the UML leader has yet to come in contact with the police.
Rayamajhi’s dramatic disappearance from Butwal after having attended a gathering in his home district of Orghakhanchi one and a half weeks ago has hinted at carelessness on the part of the police administration. However, the security agency has now intensified its search for the ex-Maoist leader. Initially, UML chairman KP Sharma Oli had dubbed the police bid to arrest Rayamajhi as ‘non-urgent.’ That was a clear indication that Oli was not in favour of getting his party leader implicated in the infamous scam. It is needless to say that Oli’s light comment on such a serious matter was also a kind of interference in the investigation process. Oli also frequently met with Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda immediately with the issuance of the arrest warrant against Rayamajhi.
The Prime Minister, and Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Narayan Kaji Shrestha have reiterated their commitment that the police would be free to advance its investigation into the racket. They have also promised that the government would make every effort possible in bringing the wrongdoers to justice. However, UML leadership was under pressure to suspend Rayamajhi from the party’s responsibility bearing in mind the fact that his non-cooperation with police investigation would take its toll on the entire party. His son Sandeep is also among the detainees. The police team investigating the case could get additional clues once it brings Rayamajhi and some other suspects, including Prateek Thapa, the son of UML vice chair Ram Bahadur Thapa, and Indra Jit Rai’s son, Niraj, under control.
Rayamajhi seems to have feared for a possible loss of his position as a member of the federal parliament as well. As per the law, a parliamentarian is relieved of his post when s/he remains absent in the House meetings for certain times without informing the parliament. So, Rayamajhi recently sent a person to formally inform the Speaker that the former was receiving medical treatment. However, he has neither mentioned about his health problem nor has he specified the hospital or place where he has been undergoing treatment.
With police investigation into the racket moving ahead smoothly, the masterminds behind this crime are expected to be exposed soon. All sections of the society must extend their necessary support and cooperation to the investigation team so as to uncover the truth. Without boosting the morale of the police officials involved in the probe, any crackdown on such crimes may not be successful. This is an important opportunity for the incumbent government to win the hearts and minds of the people by tackling corruption. No nation can strive for achieving overall development goals without eradicating policy-level corruption and other anomalies.
More than 113,000 Bhutanese refugees were resettled in various countries like the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and The Netherlands from 2007 to 2016. However, some 6,577 Bhutanese refugees are still staying in various camps in Jhapa and Morang districts. As the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had formally closed the resettlement process of the Bhutanese refugees from Nepal on December 31, 2016, it was futile on the part of the Ministry of Home Affairs to form a task force to verify the refugees again for that purpose.
What is more startling is that the report submitted to the concerned ministry by the task force was distorted in the interest of the racket. The initiative to re-verify the remaining Bhutanese refugees appears to have taken just to serve the interest of the scammers. The scam has caused huge damage to Nepal’s international image. The credibility of public institutions like the Home Ministry is at stake because of this crime. The existing state of impunity is responsible for such scams to come to light one after another in the country.
The top leaders of all the political parties must not beat around the bush when it comes to indicting the culprits. Several leaders have already lost their reputation due to their involvement in one form of corruption or the other. If they still continue trying to protect those implicated in the scam, they are sure to face consequences in the next election. Meanwhile, civil society members, students and political leaders from young generation have begun staging protests, piling pressure on the government as well as the political leaderships to facilitate the police administration to conduct investigations into the scam impartially and punish the guilty.
(The author is a deputy executive editor of this daily.)