From CIAA lens: Ganesh Thapa looks winner
The Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) turned a blind eye on former ANFA Chief Ganesh Thapa. The concern is: Either he is all-powerful, influential or high-flying personality. Here we try to unfold a story of how authorities create a waterway for big-wigs alleged in financial irregularities.
-Krishna Gyawali : Centre for Investigative Journalism
On 10th Falgun 2071, the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) decided to put on hold the graft case filed against All Nepal Football Association (ANFA) Chairman Ganesh Thapa. Assuring further investigation on the issue in the name of "gathering additional evidence", the anti-graft body had said, "CIAA has decided to shelve the case against ANFA chief Thapa for now." In fact, Ganesh Thapa was accused of embezzling millions of dollars of football development fund.
The parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) had on 12th Ashoj 2071 directed CIAA to investigate Thapa's involvement into the alleged embezzlement of Rs. 580 million under different headings. In response, the anti-graft body issued a statement surprising many by categorically denying action against him. This happened during the tenure of Lok Man Singh Karki as the CIAA Chief and Keshab Baral as Commissioner.
Meanwhile, the world football governing body FIFA on 30th Kartik 2072 suspended Thapa for 10 years for misappropriating its funds in Nepal. Similarly, FIFA's ethics committee headed by Hans Jochim Akord slapped a fine of Swiss Franc 20 thousand (approximately 21 lakh rupees) on Thapa. Among others, FIFA alleged Thapa of "taking a bribe" while voting at the 2011 FIFA election and 2009 AAFC Congress. Following FIFA's allegation and action on Thapa, as a face-saver, the CIAA's then spokesperson Krishna Hari Pushkar issued another statement saying that Thapa's case has been "put on hold for the time being and would be reopened for further investigation."
However, whether Thapa's file was reopened as assured, or not, has remained unspecified and unpublicized in the next two years. Even the PAC seemed to be least bothered about the issue of – in its own words "embezzlement of Rs. 580 million" during Lok Man Singh Karki's tenure as the CIAA chief. However, the PAC on 27th Magh 2073 BS wrote a letter to CIAA seeking "details of investigation progress on ANFA irregularities." However, CIAA's "progress detail" submitted to PAC has not been publicized yet.
Syndrome as it is
Centre for Investigative Journalism (CIJ)-Nepal made efforts to delve into the facts about ANFA irregularities, CIAA's investigation, and its repercussions. Upon scrutinizing related documents that we received from CIAA source, it was evident that three investigation officers had submitted a 23-page long initial report to the Commissioner on 19th Magh 2071 BS and was approved by then Commissioner Baral and Chief Commissioner Lok Man Singh Karki the next day, i.e. on 22nd Magh, 2071 BS. The essence of the initial report clearly mentioned that "based on necessary investigation and the available documents there have been no financial irregularities on the side of ANFA".
This decision, currently, has pushed the CIAA into trouble since it is compelled to furnish the progress details before the PAC because FIFA too alleged Thapa of "committing various acts of misconduct during the election as well as acceptance of cash payments for both personal and family gain from football officials". FIFA Ethics Committee has alleged Thapa of violating six articles of FIFA code of conduct, including ‘conflict of interest' under article 19, ‘acceptance of gifts and souvenirs' under article 20, and ‘taking bribes' under article 20. This is entirely related to the CIAA's Act and Corruption Control Act.
Despite all these, Nepal's anti-corruption constitutional body – entrusted with investigating corruption and financial irregularities – has been looking for ways out to find a reason to acquit the alleged by assuring of "taking action on the basis of evidence" while the parliamentary body "seeking progress details". FIFA Ethics Committee's announcement has put pressure on the CIAA and PAC to demonstrate something concrete on the issue.
Thapa has been accused of taking one lakh fifteen thousand dollars from then AFC President Mohamed Bin Hammam. FIFA ethics committee has alleged Thapa of transferring the amount from his son’s (Gaurav Thapa) bank account. Likewise, FIFA has imposed a lifetime ban on Sri Lankan citizen and former FIFA member Manilal Fernando, who has also been alleged of financial irregularities.
This is a mere example of how influential personalities are defended in the pretext of process and investigation. Rather than investigating corruption cases, the CIAA dispatched the file to the money laundering department for investigation. Upon receiving the file, helpless money laundering department said, "It was almost impossible to carry out investigation during the tenure of CIAA Chief Thapa due to immense pressure. Surprisingly, the case has not been prioritized in the changed context even after Thapa's dismissal by the court."
FIFA initiates, CIAA disposes
Despite ‘ample evidence' of financial irregularities against Thapa, CIAA has been overlooking the facts. For instance, the then secretary general of ANFA, Dhirendra Pradhan, in a letter sent to the Ministry of Youth and Sports has clearly hinted of "financial assistance received from Ganesh Thapa", which makes strong evidence. In his letter, Pradhan said, "Former Chairman Hammam has in an individual capacity as a guardian supported Thapa." However, details will undoubtedly unfold if details are delved into the case as for why Hammam supported Thapa and how did he become a guardian.
Following this, the Ministry of Sports formed a probe committee headed by Joint Secretary Ram Bahadur Thapa in 2071 BS to investigate into ANFA irregularities. The committee too reinforced on financial irregularities concerning public competition, tax admission, bank account on the issue. However, no hearing has been made.
In what can be dubbed as ‘noteworthy' example, Ganesh Thapa's son, Gaurav Thapa received 100 thousand dollars from AFC Chairman Mohamed bin Hammam in two installments. FIFA's accountancy firm, Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC) which completed an audit of AFC's finances, revealed Hamman’s financial support because of which Gaurav Thapa had to quit his alluring job at the Malaysia-based Asian Football Federation (AFC). However, CIAA issued a false statement on this issue saying that CIAA found that "no amount has been transferred in the accounts of FIFA Chairman Ganesh Thapa, wife Hajuri Thapa, sons Gaurav and Abhishek Thapa in the process of investigation." Moreover, the CIAA investigation report has stated that "no further investigation is necessary" on the basis of the statements provided by Thapa and Chief Accountant.
Crumbled Goal Project
Chairman of Federation of International Football Association (FIFA) Sepp Blatter initiated the ambitious "Goal Project" for the development of football in developing countries in 1999. FIFA has so far invested around 20 crore dollars for 500 projects in 193 countries under this project. Nepal received 18 lakh dollars to conduct four programs under this project during which ANFA was active in the selection of program consultants and construction entrepreneurs during 2001 to 2012. Information reveals that ANFA had directly released the fund to some projects. However, the ANFA audit report has not mentioned about ‘Goal Project' programs. This was one of the cases filed against Ganesh Thapa at the CIAA. The concern is where did the money received from FIFA in the name of ANFA go? Unfortunately, the CIAA is yet to find any wrongdoing in this matter. According to FIFA website, technical centers, including football academies were constructed and finances in Kathmandu, Dharan, and Butwal under this project. FIFA, on its website, has categorically mentioned details about the expenditure. According to the website, ANFA had "received 50 thousand dollars". However, this amount has not been mentioned in any audit reports of ANFA. Unfortunately, CIAA overlooked this issue as well.
In another noteworthy episode, several municipalities had allocated some Rs. 38 hundred thousand to ANFA during the same period to construct ANFA technical centers. However, there is no evidence to prove that ANFA has allocated the amount to Okharpauwa Construction. If ANFA had directly approached and dealt with the construction company then why did the municipalities made the contract with ANFA? Here, CIAA is silent on the issue raising suspicion.
A case was filed at the CIAA concerning the source Rs 40 lakhs that were deposited at the ANFA's ‘Players' Welfare Fund', which exposed Thapa's monopoly, dictatorial attitude and financial irregularities. In the process of investigation, ANFA has been found of receiving Rs. 40 hundred thousand from Ranipauwa Kakani Construction Group for the development of football. In fact, with the disgruntled section within ANFA raising their voices against misappropriation of funds, Thapa tried to evade the accusation saying that ANFA had spent Rs. 4 crores in construction alone while ANFA received Rs 40 lakhs as commission. Thapa had publicly said that the amount has been already deposited in the Players' Welfare Fund. In fact, the CIAA did not want to delve into this statement.
ANFA twisted its tongue when National Sports Council (NSC) sought clarification from it on the issue of disputed commission. The then secretary general of ANFA Dhirendra Pradhan, in a written statement, ruled out that ANFA had received Rs. 40 hundred thousand as commission. "ANFA has deposited Rs. 50 lakhs in the Players' Welfare Fund," he revealed. However, despite all the evidence, CIAA failed to take action.
Details revolving the funds received to renovate the Satdobato-based ANFA Complex and Chyasal-based Technical Center are even more interesting. Manilal Fernando, FIFA designated ‘Goal Development Officer' had unequivocally endorsed the quotation for the above-mentioned projects. In this connection, agreement of 3 lakhs 85 thousand dollars was signed with KC Construction and 14 thousand dollars with DL Consultancy. In a statement to CIAA, Banshi Krishna Shrestha of DL Consultancy admitted that the agreement was signed without issuing a public notice. However, the CIAA, which is tight-lipped on the issue, has not found anything unethical.
FIFA endorsed "FIFA Goal Project -3" on 10th October 2010 to finance three existing ANFA football academies in Kathmandu, Dharan and Butwal aimed at supporting and providing professional training to 180 players from different age groups – Under 12, Under 14 and Under 16. This has been clearly mentioned on the FIFA website. Details of construction of an "artificial turf pitch" have been mentioned under the Goal-3 Project. Meanwhile, a CIAA statement says, "It has been understood that an agreement to allocate 5 lakh 54 thousand dollars has been made between FIFA and Italy's Limonta Sports Spa to construct an artificial pitch at Satdobato, which has been handed over to ANFA." However, FIFA's details prove it wrong. According to FIFA, the construction claimed by ANFA was not meant for Goal 3 but Goal-4 project. While DL Consultancy received Rs. 16 lakh, Rabina Construction received Rs. 3 crores 92 lakhs for the project. According to FIFA website, Rs. 4 crores 8 lakhs out of total Rs. 5 crores 84 lakhs have been released as payment. The CIAA, here, seems to be ignorant about the differences regarding the selection of contractors and expenditure process.
The Goal-4 Project is no different. It has been said to complete the parapets at the ANFA Complex in Satdobato. The CIAA has made a factual error on the issue. It has tried to mislead the facts saying that the agreement was reached on 23rd May 2014 of the agreement, which FIFA has categorically mentioned that the agreement was signed on 25th August 2012. This clearly indicates CIAA's intention to acquit Ganesh Thapa. Twenty-five percent of the construction work has been completed as of now, according to Director of Rabina Construction. However, this statement has been taken as evidence in favor of Ganesh Thapa. An ANFA official says that the construction of the parapet at Satdobato was already completed under the Goal-4 Project. The then Vice Chairman of ANFA, Karma Tshering Sherpa says, "Is it that ANFA brought down the existing parapets to construct a new one? It is absolutely untrue," he quipped.
CIAA even did not show any concern or misappropriation of funds allocated by the government in the name of prizes and encouragement for players. According to National Sports' Council, Rs. 80 lakhs rupees have been allocated for the fiscal year 2063/66 to 2069/70 BS. In the first year, Hari Khadka received a car as an honor. Since then Rakesh Shrestha, Sagar Thapa, and Ritesh Thapa – entitled to be the recipients – are yet to get the apartments.
One of the players entitled to get the prize, Ritesh Thapa, said he has not got the apartment yet. "How do we get the apartment, which is still under construction?" he queried adding that it will take one more year to complete it. Meanwhile, forget about taking action, the CIAA has not given directives to the concerned authority. The CIAA in its statement says, "There has been no evidence of misappropriation of the allocated amount. Hence, no action has to be initiated."
FIFA, AFC, and CIAA
It cannot be denied that ANFA has misled CIAA in some cases. ANFA told CIAA that the fund received in the name of goal projects are not liable to undergo an audit in the concerned country. However, in a letter to ANFA, one Development Office of FIFA, Saji Prabhakaran has said that all funds given to football associations have to undergo audit according to the regulation of the respective countries. CIAA, however, preferred to remain silent on this issue.
The Asian Football Association has so far allocated a total of Rs. 21 crores 85 lakhs (minimum 88 lakhs to maximum Rs 7 crore 63 lakhs each year) from fiscal years 2062/63 BS to 2069/70 BS. The budget that has been allocated as salary to staff and trainers seem suspicious. For instance, the trend here is that appointment and agreement of a trainer is directly made with AFC. Salary, allowances, and appointment of a trainer are already mentioned in the AFC's agreement form. AFC allocates at least 10 to 15 thousand dollars on a monthly basis to each country. Nepal used to receive 15 thousand dollars from AFC since Ganesh Thapa maintained a cordial relationship with Hammam.
Nepal's trainers of 57 different districts receive 3 thousand rupees as allowance through IME on a monthly basis. Several trainers have not signed an agreement with AFC. Trainers had to wage a movement to receive three thousand rupees as their monthly allowance. CIAA officials inform that evidence has shown that several trainers have not received the allowance despite the agreement. A source told us, "Some Nepalese trainers do not meet AFC criteria. Therefore, it does not allocate allowances on time." The Parliamentary PAC too had raised suspicion over the misuse of trainers' funds and allowances. However, neither the CIAA has taken action nor the PAC has made a significant step besides writing a letter in the last two years.
Former CIAA Chief Commissioner, Lok Man Singh Karki was implicated in various disputed activities. He failed to take investigate corruption charges against big-wigs. ANFA episode is one among them.
Despite strong evidence of ANFA's involvement in financial irregularities and Thapa receiving a hefty amount from then AFC President Bin Hammam, CIAA remained a mere spectator. FIFA would not have taken action against Thapa had it not gathered concrete evidence of financial irregularities.
There were irregularities but the file was put on hold with the support of another corrupt official. Discussions were rife during the investigation over the existence of ANFA as a public body and its officials as public figures. Having strong evidence and basis to prove corruption, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) had sent the file along with a letter to CIAA "to investigate and take necessary action".
ANFA is a public body in itself, not a private company of Ganesh Thapa, and ANFA officials assuming public posts. We instructed the concerned authority to investigate and take action. Did we ever say not to take action against the wrong doers and keep the file on hold? No. The then CIAA Chief has had a hand in this decision. Now that all concerned CIAA officials involved in this case have to be brought under investigation.
It is high time that CIAA corrected its past mistakes. PAC has to discuss and give instruction on this issue. PAC sent a letter accentuating on financial irregularities in the Rs. 58 crore funds. However, instead of taking action, the alleged was exempted. This is deplorable. Another example of irregularity is that the players, who have been assured of apartments, have been let down. Isn't this an irregularity? All these incidences.