Ex-Nepal ministers among 30 charged in US-bound refugee scam

Prosecutors say huge amounts of money were collected from hundreds of Nepalis to send them to the US as Bhutanese refugees.

Nepal parliament
Former top government officials are among those charged in an immigration scam [Niranjan Shrestha/AP]

Nepali prosecutors have charged 30 people, including two former cabinet ministers, with corruption in a case involving faking documents for Nepali nationals to enter the United States as Bhutanese refugees.

Former Home Minister Bal Krishna Khand, former Energy Minister Tope Bahadur Rayamajhi and former Home Secretary Tek Narayan Pandey, the most senior bureaucrat in the ministry, were among 16 people detained this month and charged.

Police are searching for 14 others who were charged in absentia.

Lakshman Upadhyay Ghimire, a spokesman for the district attorney’s office, said the accused are charged with “cheating, organised crime, document forgery and state offence”.

The case was registered at the Kathmandu District Court after police investigated allegations that they had collected large amount of money from hundreds of Nepali nationals promising to send them to the United States as Bhutanese refugees.

“If found guilty, they could be jailed for up to more than 15 years,” Ghimire told Reuters news agency.

The Kathmandu Post reported that those involved have allegedly “swindled around 875 Nepali nationals of millions of rupees”.

According to the Post, Rayamajhi has been suspended as a secretary of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) party.

About 120,000 Bhutanese nationals of Nepali origin have been expelled or fled neighbouring Bhutan to Nepal since the early 1990s.

Nearly 113,000 of them have been resettled in several countries, including in the US, Canada and Australia, under a third-country resettlement programme after the two South Asian neighbours failed to repatriate them.

The US has taken about 100,000 refugees from Nepal. Several thousand are still living in camps in eastern Nepal, saying they want to go back to Bhutan.

It was not immediately clear if any Nepali nationals had been sent to the US as fake Bhutanese refugees.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies