With the unfolding of fake Bhutanese refugee scam, high profile persons have been arrested one after another. This has exposed a vicious nexus of politicians, bureaucrats and middlemen active in committing a crime against their own nation and people. The penetration of bichauliyas (middlemen) into the Home Ministry that oversees the nation’s internal security is a stark sign of a weakening state. Common people, media and civil society are demanding stringent action against the scammers. The big political parties are still dragging their feet when it comes to supporting the investigation into the case. They risk losing their popular base if they dare to scuttle prosecution process against the accused who are influential members of their parties.
After rendering millions of Nepalis into migrant workers, our politicians have colluded with bureaucrats in turning own fellow citizens into ‘fake refugees,’ bringing ignominy to the nation. It has also eroded our credibility in the eyes of international community. Many corruption scandals have piled up over the decades but the political establishment has been always recalcitrant to investigate them and punish the culprits for fear of being dragged into them. The ongoing investigation into the fake Bhutanese refugee scam has given a flicker of hope that the state of impunity will come to an end and the state’s security mechanism is capable of tackling the crime at the higher level.
It is an organised crime involving treason, fraud and forgery. Altogether 16 persons have been arrested for their alleged role in the outrageous forgery. Police is now grilling former deputy prime minister and CPN-UML secretary Top Bahadur Rayamajhi, former home minister and Nepali Congress leader Bal Krishna Khand, Bhutanese refugee leader Teknath Rijal, former home secretary Tek Narayan Pandey and Indrajit Rai, former security advisor to the then home minister Ram Bahadur Thapa Badal for swindling gullible Nepalis millions of rupees.
The arrest of Rijal has stunned everyone. Considered a Nelson Mandela among the Bhutanese refugees, he endured all atrocities of Bhutanese regime for the restoration of democracy, human rights and equality in early 1990s. He relentlessly fought for the repatriation of Bhutanese refugees to their motherland. He was against the idea of resettling the refugees in the third country, arguing that this would undermine the struggles of Nepali-origin Bhutanese and give credence to the despotic regime of Bhutanese kings. A voice of expelled Bhutanese refugees, Rijal had played an important role in internationalising the refugee issue.
Recognising his role in Bhutan’s democratic movement, Nepal has treated him as a guest, providing him Rs. 1.3 million as annual allowance, security guards and vehicle facilities in addition to other intermittent financial support. However, his glorious past, prestige and international image has turned to dust overnight following his implication in the human trafficking and treachery against Nepali state. Police have found that he had accepted around Rs. 700,000 from brokers Sanu Bhandari and Sagar Rai. This disclosure must have shamed Bhutanese refugees currently living in Jhapa and Morang, and those relocated in the Western nations. Their hope for the resettlement in their own country or in third countries has also been dashed because of Rijal’s disgraceful act.
UML suspended leader Rayamajhi and former home minister Thapa’s security advisor Rai who had masterminded in creating fake Bhutanese refugees and collecting money from them with a false promise of sending them to the USA. They had begun to execute their design before the formation of a taskforce under former joint secretary Balkrishna Panthi in 2076 BS. It was formed with a view to find ‘permanent’ solution to the Bhutanese refuges issue. Refugee leader Rijal had registered petitions at the ministry time and again, demanding a permanent solution to the repatriation of 6,577 refugees living in east Nepal. Although the intention of the formation of the panel was not wrong, Rayamajhi and Rai got the taskforce report tampered to add fake refugees in it and send them to the USA.
Rayamajhi had lobbied in convincing the government to make a decision for mobilising the international agencies for the third country settlement of refugees. He had first involved his neighbour Sanu Bhandari of Dhapakhel in Lalitpur in his design and then came Keshav Dulal of Morang, who had worked in the secretariat of Sujata Koirala. Rayamajhi had assured the gang members that their plan would be successful since the home minister and prime minister were their own ‘men’. Both Bhandari and Dulal had collected Rs. 50 million from the victims and handed over to Rai. They told the police that they also gave money to the son and spouse of former home minster Thapa – Pratik Thapa and Nainakala Thapa – at the ministers’ quarters, Pulchowk.
Following the collapse of KP Sharma Oli’s government, the gang members were frustrated that they would be unable to implement their connivance. But they succeeded to involve former home minister Khand and secretary Tek Narayan Pandey into their scheme. Pandey, who allegedly received Rs. 6 million from Dulal, forged to add the name of 875 fake refugees in the report submitted by the Panthi taskforce. Khand had facilitated their ploy through policy level decision.
This scam took place under the nose of former prime ministers - Sher Bahadur Deuba and KP Sharma Oli - but it is quite strange that they were unaware of it. In the beginning, Oli tried to defend Raymajhi when the police issued an arrest warrant in his name. When he went into hiding, he came under pressure to suspend Rayamajhi. But Deuba has not yet taken action against Khand despite the party’s two general secretaries’ call to remove him from party responsibility until the final investigation and court verdict came. The investigation of this scam has pressed the major parties in settling their various disputes in the parliament. But they need to cooperate with the police to bring all involved in the refugee scam to book. That is the only way to win the hearts of people and support a crusade against corruption in the country.
(The writer is Deputy Executive Editor of this daily.)