It’s a deal mired in controversies. And recent release of US diplomatic cables by whistleblower website Wikileaks adds more twists to the Nepal Airlines Corporation's two aircraft deal with Airbus.
Besides showing attempts made by the US embassy in Kathmandu to scuttle the deal and swing it in Boeing’s favour, it reveals how a senior minister allegedly used threat and bribes as means to push it through.
The cable dated February 24, 2010 mentions how US officials were monitoring the deal with Nepal’s national carrier and getting information about those pushing for it.
“Powerful political forces, including Deputy Prime Minister BK Gachchhadar, strongly support the Airbus deal,” the cable mentions.
It mentions that Gachchhadar had offered bribe to a member of the public accounts committee (PAC) of Nepal parliament to support the deal with the European manufacturer.
The Madhesi leader allegedly threatened Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal to pull his party—Madhesi Peoples’ Rights Forum (Democratic)--out of the government if the Airbus deal didn’t go through.
Embassy officials also raised the issue with Foreign Minister Sujata Koirala and felt that the senior Nepali Congress leader, who is also Deputy Prime Minister, supported Airbus over Boeing.
Mentioning a meeting between US Charge d’ Affaires Donald. A. Camp with finance secretary Rameshwor Khanal, the cable says Nepal government won’t guarantee a loan to NAC to go ahead with the purchase.
US felt that since NAC’s poor financial health would prevent it from raising the amount privately, the move would kill the Airbus deal and revive Boeing’s hopes.
The cable contains a letter sent by European Union to Prime Minister Nepal urging him to complete the deal on schedule and to resist “undue pressure being used by opposing vested interest groups”.
NAC had signed a deal with France-based Airbus in 2009 to purchase two aircrafts, one narrow-bodied and a wide-bodied, and a sum of US $ 750,000 was wired the same year to Paris as commitment money.
The PAC soon voiced resentment against the deal citing irregularities in payment. A finance ministry report also termed purchase of a wide-bodied aircraft at US $ 134 million as unjustified.
Last month the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority also filed a case against six senior NAC officials including executive chairman Sugat Ratna Kansakar.
Kansakar who has been suspended for his role in the deal has filed a petition in Supreme Court against the CIAA move.