Top judge embroiled in Nepali land-case bribery scandal

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 March, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 March, 2007, 12:00am

The Supreme Court is reeling under a corruption scandal that may go all the way up to the chief justice.

The row broke out when Rajesh Shakya, who paid bribes to court officials to win a land dispute, gave secret recordings of his conversations to the press after he lost the case.

'Judges do not do any work for anybody's favour until they are paid money and it is easy for us to catch their throat only if we give them bribes,' court official Baburam Dahal tells Mr Shakya in one of the recordings.

In another, Mr Dahal asks Mr Shakya: 'We don't want to give the land to it's owner, is that right?' Mr Shakya answers: 'If he leaves, if possible, that's what we want.'

According to the fortnightly magazine Himal, which broke the story, the recordings reveal 'that even the chief justice is involved in recommending a case to a 'desired judge' and some of the officials talk to judges about bribes freely'.

At one point Mr Dahal claims to have secured the support of the 'old man' for Mr Shakya's case. The magazine believes this refers to Chief Justice Dilip Kumar Poudel, who under the Nepali system was appointed because he is the longest-serving judge at the court.

Despite bribing officials in the district and appeals courts, Mr Shakya twice lost his case before it arrived in the Supreme Court.

The recordings, believed to have been made last summer, reveal he paid US$3,500 to win a Supreme Court injunction to suspend the order of the lower court.

But according to Mr Shakya, he ran out of money when he was asked for a further US$4,300 to settle the case in his favour. Instead, he went to the chief justice with his recordings, but when no response came he went to the press.

Himal says its sources confirmed Mr Justice Poudel had been aware of the recordings for five months.

'I made a mistake by offering bribes and I am ready to get any penalty for this,' Mr Shakya said.

The Supreme Court started an investigation, dissolved it, and has now appointed a second committee of three judges to investigate the case. Their report is due in two weeks.

On Wednesday, court staff closed the court for two hours in protest at claims by Mr Justice Poudel that corruption was limited to officials.

Meanwhile, Mr Dahal is still at work. According to media reports, the court is afraid to sack him because of the information he has about colleagues.