Indicted Karnali minister’s fate hangs in balance

Kathmandu/Surkhet, August 14

The ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) has yet to decide the fate of Minister of Physical Infrastructure Development of Karnali province Khadka Bahadur Khatri, who has been indicted in a banking offence.

Patan High Court directed the police yesterday to arrest and produce him before the court within three days.

Chief Minister of Karnali Province Mahendra Bahadur Shahi told THT that the court order was a matter between Khatri and the court. “We will abide by the law,” he said when asked if he was going to sack Khatri in the face of his indictment.

Khatri is among five individuals who have been accused of providing fake bank guarantees of Rs 10.1 million to Bhojpur Technical Committee.

When asked if the ruling NCP will seek expulsion of Khatri from the Karnali government, party Spokesperson Narayan Kaji Shrestha said, “I cannot say that at this stage because our party has not discussed the issue.”  He, however, hastened to add that according to NCP the law should apply to everybody without any distinction.

The government recently filed a banking offence against Khatri, Raju Prasad Shrestha, Chhabi Lal Dhakal, Randhir Tumba and Dev Jung Shahi for submitting two fake bank guarantees to Bhojpur Technical Committee between June and November 2016. As per the chargesheet, the defendants prepared two fake bank guarantees of Rs 10.1 million of Agriculture Development Bank, Bhojpur, and submitted them to Bhojpur Technical Committee.

The order issued by Patan High Court termed Shrestha and Khatri ‘absconding offenders’.

Division bench of Judge Shree Kanta Paudel and Tek Prasad Dhungana admonished police and investigators for not producing Khatri and Shrestha before the court the day the chargesheet was filed against them. The bench wondered why the charge-sheet mentioned the minister as son of a minister when Minister Khatri had himself stated in his statement before the detectives that he was a minister. The court also told police to find out if he was son of a minister or a minister himself. The court directed police to produce him before the court within three days if he was a minister.

According to Spokesperson for the Office of the Attorney General Sanjeeb Raj Regmi, Khatri does not face automatic suspension. In case a corruption case is filed against a public post holder, s/he faces suspension till his/her case is disposed off.

The minister’s secretariat member told THT that Khatri had been consulting his lawyers and he would surrender before the court within a day or two.

Senior Advocate Surendra Bhandari said Khatri faced a moral question after the indictment. It will be morally wrong on Minister Khatri’s part to appear before the court as a defendant in a criminal case and continue to hold office, he argued. He said the posts of lawmaker and minister required high moral character, hence he should quit both the posts.

Karnali PA member and Advocate Dharma Raj Regmi said Khatri’s trial would determine whether he would remain a minister or face suspension.

He added that if the court frees Khatri on bail, he would face suspension, but if the court frees him after minor inquiry, he would not face suspension.

Khatri is a contractor and runs KSK Construction in Surkhet. He had provided security bond for the bank guarantee. Contractor Ranvir Tumba and Devjung Shahi have been accused of playing the role of main conspirators who produced fake bank guarantees. Police had arrested Tumba, Shahi and Section Officer of Agriculture Bank, Bhojpur, Chhabi Lal Dhakal.

Despite repeated attempts, Khatri could not be contacted as his phone was switched off.

Khatri was elected to the Karnali Provincial Assembly from Surkhet Constituency No 1 on the erstwhile CPN-UML ticket.