A high-flying Nepali journalist who was arrested by Nepal police on Tuesday for allegedly aiding an underground armed organisation in trying to extort money from a businessman, apparently flaunted his links with top Indian leaders to impress the outfit.
The Metropolitan Police have released the tape of an alleged telephone conversation in which the arrested journalist, Rishi Dhamala, boasts to members of the underground group, the Ranvir Sena, that his Indian contacts include Sitaram Yechuri, senior leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), and former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav as well as Yadav's Samajwadi Party aide Amar Singh.
"I also have good contacts in India," the Nepali journalist boasts in the alleged tape. "Anyone who comes to Nepal from India, be it Sitaram Yechuri or Mulayam Singh Yadav or Amar Singh.
"So try to cash in on my relationships and don't try to gyp me."
Police played the tape and showed video clippings to substantiate their allegation that Dhamala, whose media organisation in Kathmandu, Reporters' Club, played a key role in news-making, was acting as a go-between for the Ranvir Sena, a little-known pro-Hindu group from the southern Terai plains.
The Ranvir Sena, apparently not an offshoot of the powerful army of landlords in India's Bihar state of the same name, was trying to extort money from businessmen in the Terai as well as the capital, police said.
It recently claimed responsibility for three explosions near the Tribhuvan International Airport, Durbar High School and Kathmandu post office, in which two people were injured.
Headed by a shadowy figure called Ranvir, the underground organisation possibly has bases in Bihar's border towns, according to the "confessions" extracted by police from three other journalists, who were said to be active members of the group.
One of them, Ram Suvak Mahato alias Pradip from Siraha district, reportedly told police he was originally a member of a Terai group, the Madhes Rastriya Janatantrik Party (Revolutionary). However, he quit it to join the Ranvir Sena and was in charge of the media as well as the Kathmandu valley.
A second, Manoj Kumar Mahato, also from Siraha, reportedly told police he was an army commander of the Ranvir Sena. Once a member of the Madhes Rastriya Janatantrik Party (Revolutionary) like Pradip, he said he had come in contact with the Ranvir Sena during his sojourn in India.
Along with a third journalist, Birendra Kumar Mahato from Sunsari, the group had been ordered by the Ranvir Sena to extract NRS 4 million from a Kathmandu-based businessman.
Dhamala, whose contacts in Nepal included Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, other ministers and top politicians, had allegedly agreed to work as a mediator and provide security to the trio for a commission of NRS 1 million.
Dhamala was said to be in touch with Ranvir Sena leaders in India, including Ranvir.
The extortion plan included sending NRS 2 million by 'hundi' to India to the group leaders.
In the alleged tape, Dhamala bragged that he was behind the making of some Maoist leaders. Referring to the 10-year armed movement by the Maoists from underground, he said if the Ranvir Sena also became a political force one day like the Maoists, the media and he would have a large contribution.
In the taped conversation, he also offered to call the businessman to his media organisation for negotiations.
As part of former prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala's entourage, Dhamala had visited New Delhi and was in contact with several senior Indian politicians. When some of them passed through Nepal, Dhamala and his Reporters' Club hosted their press conferences.
Ordered to be kept in custody for 14 days, Dhamala however denies any wrong-doing.
Calling the allegations a conspiracy by the state, he told journalists he would leave the profession if he was found guilty.