Page last updated at 22:01 GMT, Thursday, 27 March 2008

Nepal royals 'stole charity cash'

By Charles Haviland
BBC News, Kathmandu

A controversy has resurfaced in Nepal over one of the country's major nature conservation trusts.

An investigation has concluded that Nepal's royal family misused funds belonging to the charity.

The investigation committee said the royals spent large amounts of the trust's money on themselves, over a period of several years.

The report was written by Maoist former rebels, who are now in government, and who now control the trust.

'Lavish spending'

Nepal is home to the world's highest mountains and to a rich diversity of flora and fauna.

But much of the work to conserve them is embroiled in political controversy, thanks to a history of royal dictatorship mixed with communist insurgency.

The National Trust for Nature Conservation was until last year named in honour of a former king, Mahendra, and was chaired by Crown Prince Paras with his father, King Gyanendra, as patron.

An investigative committee has now concluded that the royals spent huge amounts of trust money on travels abroad, lavish parties, and health check-ups for Queen Komal in British clinics.

Its report said the royals were still using computers and cars that rightfully belonged to the trust.

In one notorious royal trip, the prince visited Austria and donated a pair of one-horned rhinos, an endangered species in Nepal, to a zoo.

Minimal expertise

While many Nepalis will find the report plausible, it has not come from an entirely objective source.

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.

The report on the trust's funds comes two weeks before elections to an assembly which is supposed to rubber-stamp the abolition of the 240-year-old monarchy.

The institution's popularity has fallen drastically since King Gyanendra's accession to the throne following the royal massacre of 2001.

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