Two weeks before Nepal’s election, the country’s conservation trust is reporting massive royal embezzlement over more than a decade. The trust, originally the King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation, was headed by King Gyanendra and Crown Prince Paras until April 2006, when democracy was restored. The last available figures, for the year ending July 2006, show that the trust had income of about $3.7 million.
Trust Secretary Bimal Kumar Baniya released the report, which he said had taken four months to compile. He said that the royal family took four vehicles and two computers from the trust, worth more than $100,000. Tens of thousands of dollars more went to pay for overseas trips, including the queen’s medical visits to England and the crown prince’s visit to Austria, where he gave a zoo a pair of endangered rhinos. About $21,000 was spent on alcohol for palace parties, Baniya said.
The trust was renamed the National Trust for Nature Conservation in 2006, and it is chaired by Maoist Minister for Forest and Soil Conservation, Matrika Prasad Yadav, who commissioned the report. The trust is widely considered a Maoist fiefdom now – several prominent Maoists sit on the board, and many YCL cadres have been hired.
The complaints against the royal family echo others: even before the royal regime fell there were accusations that the king embezzled national emergency funds for his daughter’s wedding and of diverting development money to buy arms. The palace budget rose 600 percent during royal rule.
In that context the report came as little surprise. Royalists alleged that the report was intended to influence the coming elections, and Maoist critics from all parties complain that the Maoists have just replaced one autocratic fiefdom with another.
The political comments are no surprise. More worrying however is the future of the trust. There are already media reports in Kathmandu that international donors are reconsidering their support. About 42 percent of the trust’s budget comes from outside Nepal. Use fees for the national parks make up the rest.
The trust’s highly successful management of the Annapurna Area Conservation Project, started in 1986, was extended to the Manaslu region in 1997. The trust is working to extend the project to the Kanchenjunga area and to more national parks, including Suklaphanta. Those efforts could be jeopardized if international funding dries up in the wake of this scandal.
John Child is The NewsBlaze Nepal Correspondent, a journalist in Kathmandu who writes about goings-on in and around Nepal and her neighbors.