Calls for an inquiry into Arzu Rana, a member of parliament and wife of former Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, have been made by experts amidst allegations of her role in a fake Bhutanese refugee scam. Despite a leaked audio recording suggesting that Rana received a sum of money from a suspect involved in the case, the police have neither interrogated her nor filed a case against her.
The police launched an investigation into the authenticity of the audio recording following Rana’s complaint on April 15, where she claimed that the audio was fabricated. After conducting a thorough analysis, the police confirmed that the voice in the recording matched that of Sandesh Sharma, one of the defendants in the refugee scam.
In the leaked audio, an individual can be heard claiming to have provided Rs25 million to Rana, while also stating that an additional Rs60 million was given to Manju Khand, the wife of former home minister Bal Krishna Khand, who is currently in custody for investigation in connection with the case.
On Sunday, Additional Inspector General Kuber Kadayat announced that the voice in the leaked audio was positively identified as belonging to Sandesh Sharma, a 34-year-old resident of Tulasipur Sub-metropolitan City-16, Dang. Sharma has been charged with fraud and organized crime and is currently facing trial.
According to the police, a test conducted using Speaker Identification Traits Match technology confirmed that Sharma’s voice in the control sample matched the voice in the leaked audio.
Former law enforcement officials have emphasized the need to investigate Arzu Rana for her potential involvement in the scam, now that the police have confirmed the correlation between the leaked audio and one of the defendants.
Hementa Malla Thakuri, a former deputy inspector general, stressed the importance of a police investigation to establish whether Rana had any role in the scam. Thakuri stated, “If the leaked audio is not connected to any individual accused in the scam, the person speaking in the audio would be accountable for their words.”
Despite mounting pressure to question Rana about her involvement in the scam following the audio leak, the police have not taken her statement. Furthermore, when the District Attorney’s Office in Kathmandu registered a criminal case against 30 individuals, including former deputy prime minister Top Bahadur Rayamajhi and former home minister Bal Krishna Khand, Rana’s name was absent from the list of defendants.
The 30 accused individuals have been charged with four types of crimes: treason, organized crime, fraud, and forgery, according to the attorney’s office.
On June 16, the Kathmandu District Court remanded 16 out of the 18 arrested individuals, including Rayamajhi and Khand, to jail after a hearing on whether to extend their detention.
The fake Bhutanese refugee scam was exposed after a group of criminals attempted to smuggle Nepali individuals into the United States under the guise of Bhutanese refugees, collecting substantial sums of money from each person, ranging from Rs150,000 to Rs4.8 million.
With several defendants still at large, the police have indicated that the investigation may expand to include additional individuals once sufficient evidence is obtained. The statements of those who are evading arrest have yet to be taken.
Former AIG Bigyan Raj Sharma commented that the identification of the leaked audio with one of the defendants in the case has provided a basis for the police to investigate Arzu Rana. However, he emphasized the need for solid evidence to support prosecution, stating, “Otherwise, the case will be weak. The investigators should not act solely based on public sentiment.”
Former senior police officers have expressed their belief that the investigation into the scam remains incomplete.
Notably, it is not only Arzu Rana, but also a close aide to former Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, Ajaya Kranti Shakya, who has been accused of receiving money from one of the defendants.
According to a statement given to the police, Shakya allegedly received Rs10 million, as disclosed by one of the defendants. Former AIG Sharma remarked, “It is possible that the police lack sufficient concrete evidence against Rana and Shakya, which is why they have not been summoned for questioning. However, this does not mean that the investigation is over or that they can never be investigated.”
Former law enforcement officials have emphasized the importance of establishing solid evidence to support the accusations against Rana and Shakya, including details such as when and how the alleged payments were made and whether any bank transactions can be traced.
Speculation has arisen that Rana and Shakya may be receiving preferential treatment due to their political affiliations and close relationships with influential leaders of major parties. However, the police have not confirmed whether an investigation into Rana will be initiated in light of the audio matching one of the defendants.
Senior Superintendent Dan Bahadur Karki, Chief of the Kathmandu Police Range, confirmed that the voice in the leaked audio belonged to Sandesh Sharma before the investigation report was submitted to the District Attorney’s Office in Kathmandu for the prosecution of the 30 individuals.
Sharma, in a statement given to the police, previously denied the contents of the leaked audio, claiming that he named Rana and Khand to protect himself from individuals who had filed complaints against him.
“We have included the audio in our investigation report as well,” stated Karki. “This is not new information to us.”