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Probe committee to question ex-finance minister Sharma

Probe committee to question ex-finance minister Sharma

The parliamentary probe committee formed to investigate an alleged tax rate manipulation in the national budget has invited then Finance Minister Janardan Sharma for questioning after failing to recover the CCTV footage from the night of May 28 when the alleged incident took place.

Tuesday’s meeting of the committee decided to discuss with Sharma the allegations that he invited unauthorised individuals to tweak the tax rates on the eve of budget announcement. It also decided to call the editors of Annapurna Post and Kantipur dailies that had carried news stories about the purported incident.

“We plan to discuss the issue with Sharma on Wednesday or on Thursday morning,” Man Bahadur Bishwakarma, a member of the probe committee from the Nepali Congress, told the Post.

The committee will hold discussions with former finance secretaries on Wednesday morning and with the editors from the two vernacular dailies in the afternoon.

The Annapurna Post in its June 13 edition published a story claiming that Sharma instructed four senior Finance Ministry officials to follow the suggestions of two individuals—a retired senior non-gazetted officer and a chartered accountant—on the night of May 28 to make some last-moment changes in taxation to benefit some business groups and harm others. Kantipur, the Post’s sister paper, had carried follow-up stories on the alleged incident.

“We are inviting the editors and Sharma to find out the truth,” Bishwakarma said. “So far, we have not found any concrete evidence to establish the allegations.”

On Sunday, the probe committee questioned Finance Secretary Madhu Kumar Marasini and Revenue Secretary Krishna Hari Pushkar along with Budget Division chief Chakra Bahadur Budha, Administrative Division chief Kedar Nath Sharma and the head of the information technology department at the Finance Ministry.

On Saturday, the committee questioned Kamal Prasad Bhattarai, director general of the Department of Customs; Ritesh Kumar Shakya, director general of the Inland Revenue Department; and Bhupal Baral, chief of the revenue management division of the Finance Ministry. However, no officials questioned by the probe committee confirmed the entry of the two unauthorised persons in the ministry on May 28.

Similarly, the probe committee has also decided to hand over the hard drive that is supposed to contain the CCTV footage in question to the Central Police Forensic Science Laboratory to investigate whether the footage was deleted. Technicians from the Nepali Police will check whether or not the CCTV recordings were deleted and if they can be recovered.

Surendra Aryal, secretary for the parliamentary Finance Committee who is also the secretary of the probe panel, said the panel decided to hand over the hard drive to the police following suggestions from experts from the Institute of Engineering under Tribhuvan University and the Cyber Cell of the Nepal Police. The probe committee on Tuesday had consulted the technical team after failing to find the CCTV footage of May 28.

Aryal said that the investigation committee couldn’t recover the CCTV recordings of the night in question despite repeated attempts. “Let’s see what the forensic investigation of the Nepal Police yields,” he said.

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