Kathmandu, July 19
The Supreme Court today ordered the Special Court to ‘maintain the status quo’ in the corruption case filed against Director General of the Inland Revenue Department Chudamani Sharma and referred a habeas corpus petition seeking his release to a full bench of justices, as legality of the Tax Settlement Commission needed a detailed scrutiny.
The order by a division bench gives a sigh of relief to Chudamani Sharma, who has been in custody of the Commission for the Investigation of the Abuse of Authority since June 2 on corruption charges, and the controversial TSC’s two office bearers — Chairman Lumbadhwaj Mahat and member Umesh Dhakal. Mahat and Dhakal remain at large.
Following the order, Sharma will continue to remain in custody, but the Special Court cannot record his statement, nor can it conduct bail hearing until a full bench of the Supreme Court delivers verdict on the case. The full bench consists of three or more justices.
On July 11, Sharma’s wife Kalpana Upreti had filed a habeas corpus petition at the apex court, demanding release of her husband arguing that his detention was illegal and motivated by the CIAA’s mala fide intention.
The CIAA had filed charge-sheets against Sharma, Mahat and Dhakal on July 16, accusing them of embezzling Rs 10.2 billion while working as office bearers of the TSC.
Registrar of the Supreme Court Mahendranath Upadhyay said the division bench of the court decided to send the case to a full bench, as the case entailed settling serious legal questions.
According to Upadhyay, the division bench observed in its order today that whether the TSC was a quasi-judicial body or an administrative unit, and whether the CIAA had jurisdiction over the TSC work, should be settled by a full bench of the SC.
The bench stated that interpretation of certain provisions of the Tax Settlement Commission Act, Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority Act and Prevention of Corruption Act needed to be interpreted by a full bench.
The TSC had settled only 1,069 applications out of the 1,726 applications that it had received on long-pending tax disputes. Though the TSC had received applications to settle pending taxes worth Rs 30.5 billion, the commission had recovered taxes worth only Rs 9.5 billion from businesses whose taxes had been pending since long.
Members of the Public Accounts Committee of the Parliament had questioned why the TSC had been able to recover only Rs 9.5 billion. PAC members had charged TSC members with exempting big businesses from paying taxes for mutual benefit. Sharma repeatedly faced criticism for not fixing and collecting applicable capital gains tax involved in the Ncell deal between Axiata and TeliaSonera.
A version of this article appears in print on July 20, 2017 of The Himalayan Times.