Oli urged to make public his views on tape scandal

Kathmandu, February 21

With the audiotape scandal forcing resignation of Minister of Communications and Information Technology Gokul Baskota, a close aide of Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, legal eagles have said the PM needs to tell the nation his views on the scandal and encourage agencies concerned, which have so far stayed mum, to investigate the matter fairly.

Baskota tendered his resignation yesterday after the release of the audiotape in which he is heard negotiating kickbacks worth Rs 740 million with Bijay Prakash Mishra, the local agent of a Swiss equipment supplier, in the government’s security printing press procurement deal.

What makes the PM’s clarification necessary, according to the experts, is the whopping amount in question that suggests involvement of several powerful figures and not just an individual.

Moreover, they said, Mishra’s reported claim that he had forwarded the audiotape to the PM and Cabinet ministers some two months back also made Oli’s clarification mandatory. THT could not contact Mishra, whose phone has remained switched off, to independently verify the statement.

However, PM Oli’s Press Adviser Surya Thapa said since the minister in question had already resigned and no transaction of the amount quoted in the audiotape had taken place, it was not necessary for the PM to furnish answers.

“The government signed the deal with a French company, not Swiss company. Moreover, the minister has already tendered his resignation on moral grounds. So the PM is not liable to clarify what an agent says,” said Thapa.

But constitution expert Bipin Adhikari said the PM could not get away by saying the person in question had already tendered his resignation, or there was no proof of transaction of the said amount.

“The audiotape clearly suggests that the process of committing corruption had begun and the person involved is a powerful minister, the government’s spokesperson and a close confidant of PM Oli,” Adhikari told THT. “Therefore, the PM should tell the Parliament and the nation how he seeks to handle the scandal.”

Adhikari said the PM’s statement would also facilitate the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority, which has so far only ‘watched developments closely’, to conduct the probe.

“Although nothing bars the CIAA from launching investigation, it might be intimidated to probe a powerful person,” said Adhikari. “Therefore, the nation deserves a briefing from the PM,” added Adhikari.

CIAA Spokesperson Pradip Kumar Koirala had told THT yesterday that the anti-graft body was closely following developments related to the Baskota audiotape scandal. When contacted today, he said since today was a public holiday, he would talk on the matter once the office opened on Sunday.

Another constitution expert Bhimarjun Acharya said the CIAA could launch its probe without waiting for a complaint. He added that the CIAA’s delay in investigating the scam would only damage the prime minister’s reputation.

“The information in public domain already suggests that the PM and the Cabinet were already aware of the scam. If the PM does not speak or does not facilitate the CIAA or the CIAA delays the probe, it will only prove that the PM was also involved in the scam,” said Acharya. “Therefore, the ball’s now in the PM’s court.”

Moreover, according to Acharya, the CIAA must investigate the scam fairly and bring out the truth for the sake of its own credibility.