Monday, June 26th, 2006, IndiaEnews.COM
Kathmandu – The property of the royal family of Nepal – the subject of much speculation since King Birendra’s assassination in 2001 – has come under the scanner again with a committee recommending changes in existing laws to bring the palace under the tax net.
The royal family had traditionally been exempted from paying tax, but after a mass protest in April forced King Gyanendra to step down as head of government, parliament decided to impose tax on the palace for the first time in Nepal’s history.
Now a parliamentary committee formed to implement the house’s decision has asked the government to amend two dozen laws and scrap 21 more that entitle the palace to tax exemption, the Kantipur daily reported.
After the laws are amended, the king and his family would have to disclose their income, verified by auditors, to the government by mid-July, the daily said.
The properties, assets, businesses and bank accounts of the royal family – at home and abroad – are a grey area.
Birendra, the current king’s elder brother who along with his entire family perished in a mysterious shootout in the palace, owned thousands of acres in the capital as well as other cities.
However, it is not known who inherited how much of his considerable property. After the massacre that killed the king, queen and their three children, only two granddaughters of the king and his son-in-law are alive.
But it is not known if the property went to them or the new king, Gyanendra.
In 2002, a year after ascending the throne, King Gyanendra dismissed prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and began controlling the government from behind the scenes. Alarmed at the growing influence of the palace, Nepal’s major political parties began demanding that details of the properties of the dead king be made public. But the call went unheeded.
Three years later, after King Gyanendra seized absolute power with the help of the army, the palace’s allowances shot up to Nepali Rs.750 million from the Rs.110 million during Birendra’s time, the daily said.
Last year, another Nepali daily reported Birendra’s wife, late queen Aishwarya, as having a sizeable sum of money in a Swiss bank, a report that was refuted by the palace in an uncharacteristic gesture.
Despite the denial, Nepalis believe members of the current royal family have secret bank accounts in Switzerland, Cyprus and India. They are also believed to owe businesses and property under other people’s names.
During King Gyanendra’s absolute rule, rights watchdog Amnesty International advocated freezing the royal families’ assets abroad to force the royal regime into improving its appalling human rights record.
Despite the evasions and the silence, the palace’s spending would come under the scanner again next month when Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat tables his budget in parliament. Holding profligate spending by the royal family responsible for Nepal’s economic collapse, Mahat has pledged to slash palace allowances in the upcoming budget.