Corruption Conviction in Nepal, Finally

After years of legal delay and appeals, Nepal’s Supreme Court has jailed former minister Chiranjivi Wagle. Wagle, who held the top jobs at the Information and Communications, Physical Planning, Land Reform and Home ministries during the 1990s, was convicted in July 2004 of amassing assets disproportionate to his declared income.

On Thursday court officials served the judgment on Wagle at his home, but he refused to give himself up to them. The officials then summoned police, who took Wagle to Dilli Bazaar Prison in Kathmandu.

He will serve a minimum of 18 months in jail, and the court also fined him Rs 20 million (about $280,000) and ordered confiscation of his property in an equal amount. Wagle told the court that he could not pay the fine, so it was converted to an extra 47 months of imprisonment as provided for in Nepali law. A court officer said that Wagle would be freed at any point after the 18-month original sentence if he paid the fine and turned over property to the court.

In jail Wagle will be entitled to 700 grams of rice (about 25 ounces) and an allowance of Rs 45 (about 63 cents) per day.

There are almost two-dozen other high-profile corruption cases involving former ministers and senior bureaucrats pending before the court. Many have dragged on for years, despite a legal requirement that cases must be tried within six months and appeals heard within three months. Lawyers familiar with Wagle’s case said that his attorneys were granted at least 20 postponements and that the courts deferred action more than 10 times to examine the evidence.

Wagle called the verdict “an injustice,” but public opinion in Nepal will not agree.