On June 19, the Special Court cleared former minister Bikram Pandey and 20 others of the charge of misappropriating more than Rs 2 billion from the Sikta Irrigation Project.
Earlier that month, the same court had exonerated Raj Kumar Rauniyar, former vice-chancellor at Dharan’s BP Koirala Institute of Health Sciences, in a bribery case. He was caught in his own office with Rs 800,000 in unaccounted for cash.
Similarly, on May 30, the court had given a clean chit to Surendra Bahadur Thapa, assistant attorney at Pokhara-based Public Prosecutor’s Office, on charges of bribery and amassing illegal wealth.
The above verdicts are cases in point of how the Special Court has been acquitting politicians and senior bureaucrats implicated in high-profile bribery and corruption cases.
This trend reportedly started after Srikanta Poudel was appointed the court’s chair along with Ramesh Kumar Pokharel, Yamuna Bhattarai, Shaligram Koirala, Balbhadra Banstola and Khusi Prasad Tharu as members, back in February.
The Thapa-led team started looking into the cases from March 7 and since then, they have passed down 216 not-guilty verdicts against 24 guilty ones.
In the Nepali month of Chaitra (mid-March to mid-April), they ruled on 44 cases, issuing 38 acquittals and eight convictions. The month prior, the bench handed down 36 acquittals and six guilty rulings.
Advocate Srihari Aryal says while there are plenty of malpractices in the judiciary, the high acquittal rate in corruption cases is mainly the result of insubstantial evidence.
“I’m not claiming that our judiciary is free of corruption. In fact, I was part of the team that prepared a report to expose corruption and malpractice in our courts. But in these cases, it is the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority that should be answerable,” he says. “When 90 percent of the registered cases are getting thrown out, shouldn’t the commission, which registered the cases, review its work?”
Aryal adds this is what happens when political appointees run the CIAA. Chargesheets for a high-profile corruption case are filed with weak evidence and the court cannot establish the crime. This isn’t the case when it comes to petty corruption and fraud cases though. Ever since Thapa and his team joined the Special Court, they have issued convictions only in cases related to fake documents. Not only that, the team seems eager to swiftly settle corruption-related cases. On a single day, June 2, for instance, the court issued acquittals on 17 bribery and corruption cases.
Chairperson of Transparency International Nepal Padmini Pradhananga says political appointment of judges is also the reason why corruption in Nepal is entrenched.
“There are reports of corruption and malpractice in the judiciary, but no one is investigating. Corrupt people will continue to escape punishment so long as judges and justices are seen as above the law,” she says.