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'Chinese-hand' in Nepal horse trading scandal?

Are Maoists in Nepal seeking financial help from China to bribe lawmakers to vote for their candidate in the deadlocked prime ministerial election?

world Updated: Sep 04, 2010 15:06 IST
Utpal Parashar

Are Maoists in Nepal seeking financial help from China to bribe lawmakers to vote for their candidate in the deadlocked prime ministerial election?

Transcript of some parts of the phone conversations

First conversation

· Unknown caller: What’s causing the problem to (get) enough seats?
· Mahara: We have already 10-15 seats but maybe (we need) around 50.
· Unknown caller: You need additional 50? And Mr. Mahara what kind of help could help you to get the 50 seats?
· Mahara: This is most difficult task, because the south (India) centre (New Delhi)—they (some lawmakers) are guided, control (by) them. So the first thing, it is necessary to neutralize the south. Second thing, some money (is) also needed.

Second conversation

· Mahara: I have discussed with my chairman and he says because the election is now only four days left—from outside minimum 50 members we need. For 50 members, if we cost them then the minimum (needed is) 10 million Nepali rupees per person.
· Unknown caller: 10 million per person that is 100 lakh per person?
· Mahara: Yes 100 lakh Nepali rupees per person
· Unknown caller: .....If you will be able to pay a visit to Hong Kong?
· Mahara: Yes, it is okay. But Hong Kong is..there are so many Nepalis (there)
· Unknown caller: We are open at any time, but for you when will be good time?
· Mahara: But it is only four days because we need before four days. But..I will try to tomorrow or today?
· Unknown caller: How long you need to stay in Hong Kong? One night?
· Mahara: Yes, one night is sufficient.

Two telephone conversations allegedly between Maoist leader Krishna Bahadur Mahara and an unnamed Chinese person that have surfaced ahead of the sixth round of voting on Sunday seem to suggest such a possibility.

In tapes of the sting operation leaked to Nepali media on Friday evening, Mahara is heard asking for NRs 500 million from the Chinese person to bribe 50 lawmakers to vote for Maoist chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal.

While Mahara, who is heading the Maoist party's foreign cell, has termed the tapes as fake, The Himalayan Times quoted a Chinese Embassy official in Kathmandu who said the allegation is baseless.

The audio tapes of two conversations lasting over 12 minutes were reportedly recorded on August 31 and September 1. A voice sounding like Mahara speaks in halting English to a caller with noticeable Chinese accent.

In the conversation the Maoist leader says his party has already acquired support of 10-15 lawmakers from other parties, but need another 50 more to vote for Dahal for him to win.

Mahara says that each lawmakers needs to be paid NRs 10 million and both parties agree to meet in Hong Kong for transaction of the deal. In the tapes, Mahara claims that Dahal has knowledge of the move.

There is allusion to India in the conversation when Mahara says that some lawmakers are guided and controlled by the “south” and it is necessary to "neutralize" its influence.

Ahead of the fourth round of voting for the prime minister's post, India had sent former foreign secretary Shyam Saran as special envoy to talk to all parties and end the impasse.

While the details of his talks are still not clear, it is believed that Saran had persuaded the four party Madhesi front, which has 82 crucial members, not to vote in favour of Dahal.

Allegation was also made by a Madhes-based Maoist lawmaker that an official in the Indian Embassy had threatened him.

Nepal is in the process of electing its new prime minister after Madhav Kumar Nepal resigned in June.

But despite five rounds of voting, none of the two candidates—Dahal and Nepali Congress leader Ram Chandra Poudel have managed to get the 300 votes needed for a win.

Maoists have 235 members in the Constituent Assembly while Nepali Congress has 114 representatives.