High-profile scandal brings to fore lax security measures
Feb 10, 2011-In a sensational revelation, passport racketeers in the country who are thriving under the protection of corrupt power centres have been found to have forged even diplomatic (red) passports of two sitting lawmakers to send people to foreign lands.
The matter involving two lawmakers of the Constituent Assembly (CA)—Gayatri Shah and Bishwanath Prasad Yadav—came to the fore with the arrest of a Nepali man and woman in the Abu Dhabi Immigration. The duo was trying to fly to Australia with forged red passports.
Replacing photos of the prospective clients, the racketeers had managed to procure red-passports, their citizenship certificates and CA identity cards issued in the names of lawmakers Shah and Yadav and attempted to supply two persons to Australia for a hefty sum of money.
One man—identified as Prithivi Chantyal—who was caught in Abu Dhabi told the authorities that he had given Rs. 16 million to Kathmandu-based agents Manoj Karki and Ashish Sherpa to ensure visa to travel to the UK, Australia, Hong Kong and Schengen countries on forged diplomatic passports.
The revelation has brought the two lawmakers, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that had issued the passports and the Department of Immigration that allowed the two persons to leave the country under scanner.
It is unclear whether the lawmakers were hand-in-glove with the racketeers or the criminals had procured the passports through other channels. Speculation is rife that the ministry’s employees could be behind the scandal.
Last year, police had arrested non-gazetted officer Bachhu Ram KC for his nexus with passport racketeers.
Bharat Raj Poudel, Joint-secretary at the ministry, said investigation is underway. He also did not rule out ministry officials’ involvement in the scandal. The ministry has also asked the CA to furnish details about the forgery of lawmakers’ passports.
The copies of the passports, made available to the Post, show that the passport books were registered on July 25 and August 12, 2008 when the ministry was still based in Shital Niwas, and only the pictures of the lawmakers were replaced with the two clients.
It shows the ministry’s stamps were used in the passports to send the two men as lawmakers.
An application written on the letter pad of the foreign ministry was dispatched to the Australian High Commission in New Delhi requesting it to issue visa to the “parliamentarians”.
The racketeers had also presented an invitation letter that was allegedly sent by the Human Rights and Democracy Nepali Forum in Australia inviting the lawmakers to attend a programme on Jan. 18. The lawmakers, however, on their part claimed they were not traveling during that period and that the Foreign Ministry wrote no letters on their behalf. “I have absolutely no idea how they forged my passport.
I came to know of this very recently,” Shah, a leader of the Nepali Janata Dal, said. Yadav of the Madhesi Janaadhikar Forum-Nepal also said he was unaware of the forgery.
Making a mockery of law, the two persons who were sent to Kathmandu from Abu Dhabi were let off the hook by immigration officials at the Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA). The immigration at the TIA has no record of these forged passport bearers.
Asked about the lax security, Khada Nanda Dhakal, Chief of the immigration at the TIA, said the officials could have treated the two persons as VIPs thinking they were genuine lawmakers.
“Those holding red passports are usually not scanned as all the immigration processes are done by their aides,” Dhakal said.
Sources say TIA officials may have been involved in the high-profile scandal.
Authorities concerned have shown no urgency to launch probe panels, while CA Secretariat Spokesperson Mukunda Sharma, and the police said investigation is underway.