Top Bahadur Rayamajhi, a former deputy prime minister and minister of the interior, has been hiding out ever since he was implicated as one of the top level officials in a fabricated refugee scam. He was missing for ten days until being apprehended on Sunday night.

Former Maoist guerilla leader Rayamajhi served in the K P Oli administration after his defection to the UML in 2018. On May 3, arrest warrants were issued for him and his son. The same day his son was caught, but Rayamajhi allegedly escaped to India before being apprehended in Kathmandu.

He is the highest-ranking former government official to be implicated in a scandal that has so far involved Bal Krishna Khand, a former home minister for the Nepali Congress (NC), government secretaries, middlemen, and the brains behind a plot to send hundreds of Nepalis to the United States under the guise of Bhutanese refugees.

The information was made public after a March exposé in Kantipur when Nepalis who had paid recruiters up to Rs 5 million to transfer them to the US as refugees from Bhutan filed complaints. Despite the fact that the relocation program had been suspended since 2016, they had paid to have false papers created so they would appear on a list of Bhutanese refugees who were scheduled to be placed in the US.

Former Home Minister Bal Krishna Khand was detained in Kathmandu on May 10 after being linked to the fraud. Manju, the wife of MP Bal Krishna Khand, has also been implicated and is said to be evading capture.

On the basis of an audio recording produced by one of the recruiters, MP Arzu Rana Deuba, the wife of NC leader and five-time prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, has also been charged with collecting a bribe from the bogus migrants. On the floor of Parliament, Rana vehemently refuted the allegations and demanded an inquiry into the recording, which she said was fabricated.

Top officials from the NC, UML, and Maoist Center have gathered to review new developments as the police probe proceeds, despite mounting calls from inside their own parties for an unbiased investigation into the swindle and the prosecution of those responsible. There are several claims on social media that the three major parties are attempting to hide the truth.

Although Deuba is thought to be the most concerned, monitoring the police investigation out of fear that his wife would get involved in it, the leaders of the three parties have publicly asked for an impartial and comprehensive probe. The snowballing issue and its global repercussions seem to have alarmed the government, and on Monday, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal summoned diplomats headquartered in Kathmandu to Singha Darbar to declare his administration’s determination to pursuing those responsible.

Earlier on Monday, during a program sponsored by the Tanka Prasad Acharya Foundation in Patan, former minister and Nepal’s ambassador to India Nilamber Acharya, former head of the CIAA (the anti-corruption watchdog), Surya Nath Upadhyay, independent lawmaker Amaresh Kumar Singh, and RSP MP Swarnim Wagle discussed the scandal and its implications for Nepali politics and the nation’s standing on the international stage. Nilamber Acharya, who spoke at the event, stated that the scandal has brought attention to Nepal’s governance shortcomings and a deterioration of its political mechanisms. He added that corruption, not ideology, unites leaders, making it simpler for parties with fundamentally divergent principles to form governments. He emphasized that since powerful people commit crimes and even more powerful people provide protection for criminals, crime is on the increase.

Acharya said that “the world is watching Nepal.” “And it is up to us which side we choose to stand on: whether we establish Nepal as a country of corruption, or whether we emerge from this as a nation that holds the corrupt to account.”

Surya Nath Upadhyay, in the meanwhile, lauded Nepal Police for their independent investigation thus far without caving to pressure, adding that there have been efforts to discredit it by individuals in authority even as they openly ask for a comprehensive probe.

From 2001 until 2006, Upadhyay served as the CIAA’s top commissioner and took tough measures against a number of dishonest government employees. Under his direction, the CIAA indicted 22 senior tax department employees for corruption in 2002. Five former ministers, government secretaries, police officers, and other people were accused by the CIAA in 2006 for accumulating unauthorized money and assets.

Upadhyay stated that what is required right now is for the people to act as watchdogs and see the probe through. “All of the progress we have already made will evaporate, and people will eventually forget,” said Upadhyay of the media, civil society, and law enforcement. “We need to hold each of the criminals responsible for this crime accountable.”

Following his victory in the by-election for Tanahu in April, Swarnim Wagle, the newest RSP representative in Parliament, discussed the scope and gravity of the scandal, the evolving nature of corruption, and the need of institutional reform: Fraud, corruption, human trafficking, multinational organized crime, and sedition have all occurred at the same time.

Wagle also pointed out how corruption has changed along with the sophistication of the economy, moving from cash transactions to shares, gold, and jewels, and even to the point where even public figures known for their corruption could openly challenge the law enforcement to demonstrate their crimes in the absence of tracable corruption. Wagle noted that many corrupt officials have been helped and encouraged by impunity.

Through changes in Parliament, corruption has been painstakingly legalized. So it seems that we are building a system that encourages corruption, said Wagle. “Those who are corrupt must be caught up to by our legal system,”

Amresh Kumar Singh, a member who was once with the NC and ran as an independent during the federal elections in November, said that the fact that representatives from all major parties were implicated in the refugee scam demonstrated that there was “all-party corruption” in Nepal. Singh most recently disrobed in protest last week in Parliament after being refused time to speak about the topic on the floor.

Even though past home ministers are being detained, Singh cautioned that the police have only so far managed to catch the “small fish” in the refugee fraud and that it would be stupid to think otherwise.

“This scandal is merely a mirror that has reflected how Nepal is run on patronage by political brokers, reaching the most influential of ministries,” said Singh. “Nepal is a participatory democracy, not a democracy. Additionally, corruption outranks political parties. The future and direction of the three main political parties are in jeopardy, according to Singh, who also noted that this controversy signified a political turning point in Nepal.

The significance of the issue for Nepal’s standing on the international scene was also covered by the four speakers. Not only political parties, but also Nepal’s reputation abroad and the confidence of the populace are at risk, according to Singh.

Wagle also discussed the potential effects of the controversy on the Nepali diaspora throughout the globe. The millions of Nepalis who have either temporarily or permanently relocated outside of Nepal would be affected by this scandal because “Nepal is not isolated anymore,” he stated. Since Nepal has traditionally been on the losing end of international, geopolitical, and diplomatic disputes, Upadhyay warned that the country’s growth, economy, and status internationally are likely to sustain permanent harm.

Nilamber Acharya said that as long as the probe is going in the correct path, there is no need for Nepal or the Nepalese to feel humiliated. In exposing misconduct, the media was also successfully serving as a check and balance.

According to Acharya, “It is not yet time for us to hang our heads in shame on the global stage, as long as we ensure that the corrupt are held accountable and justice is served.”

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