Nepal jails minister in corruption case

KATHMANDU - Nepal's highest court on Tuesday jailed a serving government minister for corruption in a first for a nation fighting an ingrained culture of graft.

The Supreme Court handed information and communications minister, Jaya Prakash Prasad Gupta, an 18-month sentence and an 8.4 million-rupee fine after he failed to account for a vast portfolio of property accrued while in office.

Gupta, 52, has held a number of ministerial posts and was appointed to the information ministry after his party struck a deal with the Maoists to form a coalition government in August last year.

"This bench has reached the conclusion that the defendant's source of income and the property he earned during the given period doesn't match," Sushila Karki, one of two presiding judges, told reporters.

"He failed to verify the source of income for 8.4 million rupees. Therefore, it has been proved that Gupta has committed a crime as per the Corruption Prevention Act," she said, reading from the verdict.

Chiranjibi Wagle, a former government minister, was jailed for corruption last year but Gupta is the first serving cabinet secretary to be handed prison time in a graft case.

Gupta started his political career with Nepali Congress (NC) and was the prime minister's press adviser in 1991 after the restoration of democracy in the impoverished Himalayan nation.

He was an information and communications minister in the mid-1990s but left the NC to form the Madhesi Janaadhikar Forum Nepal, a regional party representing ethnic Madhesis in the southern plains.

He has repeatedly denied charges of illegally amassing property and said he has been singled out for being a Madhesi.