Nepalese royals misused National Trust for Nature Conservation, says audit report

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2008:


KATHMANDU–A three-member audit committee on March 26, 2008
confirmed years of rumors that the Nepalese royal family had
extensively misused the King Mahendra National Trust for Nature
Examining financial records from 2000-2006, the audit
committee reported that, “Millions [in Nepalese rupees] were spent on
travels abroad and lavish parties,” summarized the Nepal Horizons
News Service, in an account also internationally distributed
verbatim by the Indo-Asian News Service.

“Money meant for boosting Nepal’s conservation efforts was
instead spent by Queen Komal when she went to Britain for her annual
health checkups; by King Gyanendra during his foreign trips during
his army-backed absolute rule; and by Crown Prince Paras,”
Gyanendra’s son, “who went to Austria and France with his wife and
became embroiled in rhino diplomacy,” the Nepal Horizons News
Service said.
Gyanendra, the present king of Nepal, surrendered his reign
in 2006. He headed the NTNC from formation in 1982 until his
ascension to the throne in 2001, when Paras succeeded him in charge
of the NTNC.
The NTNC audit report was released just two weeks ahead of an
April 10, 2008 election, in which Nepalese voters are to decide
whether to retain a constitutional monarchy or to become a democratic
Charles Haviland, the Kathmandu correspondent for BBC News,
questioned the sources and timing of the audit report.
“While many Nepalis will find the report plausible, it has
not come from an entirely objective source,” Haviland objected.
“All three of its authors are Maoists, as the ministry which
controls the conservation trust is now headed by a minister from the
former rebel group. A recent newspaper article alleged that the
trust was now staffed with many Maoist supporters or activists who
have minimal conservation expertise. The article said some foreign
donors were suspending their co-operation as a result.”
But the audit report allegations chiefly add detail to
matters already on the public record.
Paras, recalled the Nepal Horizons News Service, “was sent
to Austria in a bid to improve Nepal’s strained ties with western
governments after King Gyanendra seized power through a bloodless
coup,” soon after Crown Prince Dipendra, an avid hunter, on June
1, 2001 shot nine members of the royal family, including the
previous king and queen, and then shot himself.
Paras and his wife took two endangered Nepalese one-horned rhinos to
the Schonnbrun Zoo in Vienna. State-run Nepalese media depicted this
as an official state visit, but international and independent media
soon revealed that no ranking Austrian government representatives
were involved.
“Since King Gyanendra’s ascension to the throne,” Nepal
Horizons News Service continued, “the nature trust spent over one
million Nepalese rupees on alcohol and hotel bills. Three laptops,
a [desktop] computer, an air compressor and four vehicles,”
collectively valued at about $90,625, “were carted away by staff of
Nirmal Niwas, the residence of the crown prince, and never
Published NTNC financial statements from 2005 and 2006 show
expenditures of $47,597 and $45,170 on “international promotion and
travel,” apart from other promotional costs, and $11,617 and
$11,913 for “entertainment,” but give no further details.
“Much of the money released by the fund was used for
entertaining the royal family,” affirmed NTNC secretary in charge
Bimal Kumar Baniya in a statement to news media.
Added the Nepal Horizons News Service, “The probe also found
that after Crown Prince Paras was named in a hit and run accident,
in which a popular folk singer was killed, money from the trust fund
was used to repair Paras’ damaged vehicle.”
The accident, on August 6, 2000, was initially reported as
Paras’ second fatal hit-and-run while driving drunk, and later
identified as his fourth.
The vehicle, a jeep, was registered to the NTNC. The
victim, Prabin Gurung, was knocked off his motorcycle. A soldier,
Khadka Bhujel, claimed to have been the driver, despite having no
association with the NTNC. Gurung’s widow issued a statement
exonerating Paras after accepting cash compensation. Charges were
filed against Bhujel, but were later withdrawn, after a month of
public protests against the alleged cover-up.
The case became a landmark in the sequence of events leading
to the 2006 loss of royal power. The royal handling of the case led
to widespread skepticism of Paras’ role as the only unscathed ranking
survivor of the 2001 palace massacre.
Founded in 1982, the NTNC manages Nepalese wildlife and
nature conservation projects, cultural heritage sites, ecotourism,
and “sustainable development.” The NTNC operates 16 national
parks, the Central Zoo, the Nepalese access points for Himalayan
climbing and trekking, and a major gender equality program that
provides education and jobs for women, especially in rural areas.
The NTNC raised about $3 million in 2005, the last full year
under royal control, and $3.7 million in 2006, dropping the royal
name and affiliation in October 2006. About 40% of the NTNC income
in 2005 and 2006 came from foreign grants and investment. Most of
the remainder came from tourism fees.
King Mahendra ruled Nepal from 1955 until his death in 1972.
He abolished all political parties in 1959 and reigned thereafter as
an absolute monarch. Mahendra had no direct role in creating the
NTNC, but was instrumental in the evolution of two of the most
renowned NTNC holdings.
The Central Zoo, now attracting nearly 900,000 visitors a
year, almost all of them Nepalese, was founded in 1932 as a private
menagerie by then-prime minister Juddha Sumsher J.B. Rana. The Rana
family dominated Nepalese politics for several decades before the
re-ascendance of the monarchy in 1951. In a popular gesture symbolic
of the Rana downfall, Mahendra opened the Central Zoo to the public
in 1956.
Royal Chitwan National Park originated as a Rana hunting
preserve. Mahendra designated part of it as a rhino sanctuary in
1963, and authorized the creation of the park, Nepal’s first, in
1970, but died a year before it actually opened in 1973.
Representing Nepal in dealings with the World Wildlife Fund
at least since 1976, Gyanendra with his wife Queen Komal Rajya Laxmi
and his daughter Princess Perna in June 2002 sacrificed a buffalo, a
goat, a sheep, a duck, and a pigeon at the Goddess Kamakhya temple
in Guwahati, Assam. The actual killing was done by royal priest
Acharya Raguhunath Aryal, who flew to Guwahati from Kathmandu for
the ceremony.
Gyanendra returned the following day to sacrifice a second goat.
Gyanendra had previously sacrificed animals at the Kalighat temple in
Kolkata, but “abstained from sacrifice” in Kolkata after protest
greeted his visits, Compassionate Crusaders Trust founder Debasis
Chakrabarti wrote to ANIMAL PEOPLE in November 2004, and reaffirmed
to the Indo-Asian News Service in November 2007.
Gyanendra continued to sacrifice animals in Nepal, however,
killing a goat in October 2007 to initiate the annual Dashain
sacrificial festival.
With the Nepalese parliament dissolved, Gyanendra in May 2004
decreed a “Wildlife Farming, Reproduction and Research” policy that
authorized ranching barking deer, spotted deer, black buck,
sambar, hog deer, wild boar, antelope, gharial crocodiles, and
five species of pheasant, including the Impeyan pheasant–the
national bird.
The Gyanendra government had already issued permits for
commercially breeding rhesus macaques, snakes, and vultures. The
macaques are raised for export to U.S. laboratories, in
collaboration with the University of Washington Regional Primate
Research Center. The project, begun in September 2003, is funded
by the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Only captive-bred
macaques may be imported into the U.S., but after several years of
constructing facilities, the Nepal Bio-Medical Research Center
started breeding macaques in 2007 with 300 captured from the wild.
The snakes are raised for medicinal use, including both the
production of antivenins and traditional remedies made from snake
Efforts were apparently made to breed vultures in anticipation of a
market for captive birds to facilitate “sky burial” by Parsees and
others whose traditional disposal of human remains has been
jeopardized by the declining Indian vulture population.

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