Red Passport Scam

Red passport scam remains as one of the biggest corruption scandals in Nepal in 2011. After the story appeared in the media three lawmakers who were elected four years back to draft a new constitution and support in the peace process are suspended and one is still at large. Cases against three lawmakers along with half a dozen of government officials is underway in the Special Court—a court that specifically looks after corruption cases.

The Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA)- the constitutional body that serves as the watchdog against the abuse of authority and the resultant chain of corruption in the country, has filed cases against lawmakers Gayatri Shah (Nepal Janata Dal), Bishownath Prasad Yadav (Madhesi Janaadhikar Forum-Republican), and Shiva Pujan Raya Yadav (Madhesi Janaadhikar Forum-Nepal) in the court. The chief immigration officer Khadananda Dhakal of the Tribhuwan International Airport, the country’s only international airport and other officials from the same office have been suspended. However, the court has released all of them on bail now.

When I first got this information in February my first task then was to verify if the information was true. Doing verifications silently in a country rampant with corruption wasn’t that easy. Documents, information from the ministries and the silence of immigration department on this case clearly showed that big racketeers were involved.
Two persons—Sita Shah and Prithvi Chantyal— heading for Australia, carrying the red passports of Gayatri and Bishwonath were caught and sent back from Abu Dhabi on January. Kathmandu’s immigration department freed them instead of taking actions.

Gayatri and Bishwonath’s photos were replaced with Sita and Prithvi’s in the passport however the passport number and the details were same. They even managed to get citizenship certificates and Constitution Assembly identity cards issued in the names of lawmakers Shah and Yadav.

In one of the documents Prithivi Chantyal writes that he had given Rs. 16 million to agents Manoj Karki and Ashish Sherpa to ensure visas to travel to the UK, Australia and Schengen countries on forged diplomatic passports.

I first broke the investigation on February 6, on Kantipur Television. I talked with experts, ministry officials, chief immigration officer Khadananda Dhakal (who is also now suspended), lawmakers, and spokespersons and also read a lot about the history of passport forgery in Nepal.

On my video interview both the lawmakers Gayatri and Bishwonath denied any involvement in this racket. However, documents showed the opposite of what they were saying. Now, Nepal Police’s Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) is investigating other cases related to diplomatic passport forgery. Head of CIB and DIG Upendrakanta Aryal says, “More lawmakers might be involved in this diplomatic passport scam and we are investigating it.”

According to the Passport Act, misuse of passports can lead to up to a one-year jail term, five hundred rupees (6.25 dollar) fine or both. If convicted, the lawmakers would also lose their seats in parliament.
When I was doing this story, it had been just few months that I returned from reporting at the IACC as an anti-corruption youth journalist/blogger. The conference left me with number of ideas and information on covering corruption. Experts and speakers’ words inspired me to continue reporting on anti-corruption. The exposure of the involvement of lawmakers in passport forgery is the result of my learning’s at the anti corruption conference. I vow to continue unleashing such scams in days to come as well.

In this blog post, Young Journalist Rajneesh Bhandari tells us how his experience at the 14th IACC in Bangkok inspired him to pursue investigative reporting on corruption in Nepal. Beginning on 1 February 2011, Rajneesh unleashed a fake passport scam which was broadcasted in Nepali, and later awarding him best reporter for Kantipur Television. Besides unleashing corruption scandals in South East Asia, Rajneesh is currently working Kantipur Television in Nepal, and freelancing for the Los Angeles Times and AFP Video. Rajneesh has written this snappy synopsis of the Red Passport Scam especially for IACC News.

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