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Who'll pay Nepal King's $700,000 bill?

His wings have been clipped by a people's revolt but Gyanendra still continues to remain above the law.

india Updated: Dec 05, 2006 12:30 IST
Indo-Asian News Service
Indo-Asian News Service

His wings have ostensibly been clipped by a people's revolt but Nepal's King Gyanendra still continues to remain above law, the latest poser being who will pay the whopping Nepali Rs 48.6 million bill he ran up on junkets abroad.

The monarch kept the best Boeing of the national carrier at his disposal for nearly a month after he seized power with the help of the army last year and went on a mysterious tour of African countries, like South Africa and Burundi, whispered to be on the advice of his astrologers.

It caused the Royal Nepal Airlines, already beset with liabilities worth Rs 1.63 billion, further losses worth millions and great inconvenience as it had to cover its destinations in seven countries with just one aircraft.

The national airline, now renamed Nepal Airlines to distance itself from royalty, has just published a white paper, detailing its position.

According to the report, the palace still owes it Rs 48.6 million for the African safari.

Though Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat has been rattling his sword, warning the government will take strict action against businessmen who have not paid their banks loans, the minister, whose party till recently supported monarchy, is silent on what action he proposes to take against a defaulting king.

The royal sojourn abroad at a time the country was seething with Maoist insurgency and demonstrations by the opposition parties raised eyebrows both at home and abroad, all the more so as Nepal had no diplomatic ties with Burundi and South African leader Nelson Mandela reportedly declined to meet him.

Since then, Gyanendra was forced to quit as head of government and the new dispensation of opposition parties stripped him of legal immunity, declaring that the royal family would have to pay taxes like any other commoner. But the declarations seem to be on paper only.

Besides the royal bill, Nepal Airlines is also saddled with two second-hand helicopters it was forced to buy from China during King Gyanendra's 15-month dictatorial rule.

The choppers, bought at almost twice their actual worth, couldn't be scrapped by the new government despite its promise it would not honour any commitment of the royal regime that caused a loss to the state exchequer.

Though the aircraft will not be of use to Nepal Airlines, which needs at least two more Boeings to spruce up its flights and image, they had to be accepted as China refused to let the new government back down.

Almost eight months after stepping down, the king's status remains virtually unchanged except for a low profile.

While he is not heading public programmes or receiving calls from visiting dignitaries, he is yet to pay taxes or face action for ordering excessive force against demonstrators, resulting in the death of 21 people.

The new government says it is committed to hold an election by June 2007 when monarchy would be put to vote.

But, given its failure to install a new constitution and parliament in time, it is doubtful if the poll will take place as scheduled.

First Published: Dec 05, 2006 12:25 IST