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Adhikari rejects charges of irregularities in Airbus deal

- SANGAM PRASAIN, Kathmandu

Jan 8, 2019-

Tourism Minister Rabindra Adhikari said on Monday ‘all allegations’ of financial irregularities against him in the purchase of two Airbus A330 aircraft that caused heavy losses to the government were baseless and far from the truth. 

Speaking to the media before the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) was scheduled to endorse the report of its sub-committee on the alleged wrongdoings, Adhikari refuted the charges made against him. 

The $209.6-million aircraft purchase deal for Nepal Airlines Corporation has rocked the country as one the biggest corruption scandals in its history with an estimated loss of Rs4.35 billion.

Adhikari said that the accusations against him were ‘false’ and ‘baseless’. “I respect the role played by the parliamentary committees, but I plead with them not to do anything that will negatively affect public morale and development work,” he said. “The parliamentary committees can develop trust by unearthing facts based on investigation and research. Many false charges have been made against me. I want to clarify that I am not involved in the plane procurement process. Hence, dragging me into the alleged irregularities is a biased response from the parliamentary committee.” 

The PAC sub-committee asserted that the procurement of two A330 jets by Nepal Airlines Corporation caused a loss of Rs4.35 billion to the government. 

Based on the report, PAC on Monday directed the government to take legal action against Tourism Minister Adhikari and former ministers, Jivan Bahadur Shahi and Jitendra Dev, for not carrying out their responsibility to stop the deal. 

Minister Adhikari has been charged with negligence as he was found to have sent the final instalment of the payment to Portuguese leasing company HiFly. PAC concluded that the sitting minister should take moral responsibility although he was not legally linked with the deal. 

“I took charge of the Tourism Ministry on March 28, 2017; and at that time, the payment schedule had already been approved. Do you think there were any legal bases to change the payment schedule? And before I came to the ministry, the Supreme Court, in response to a writ, ruled on December 13, 2017 that there was no need to issue an interim order to stop the request for proposal floated by Nepal Airlines to buy A330 jets as the entire process was based on legal grounds. Was there any reason to give orders to stop the deal on the basis of the court’s orders?” Adhikari said.

“Although the Office of the Auditor General had said that Nepal Airlines Corporation had breached its own financial bylaw while procuring the jets during that time, there were no legal bases, dishonouring the court’s orders, that allowed me to stop sending the instalments for the planes ordered by the national flag carrier,” he told the press meet. 

“It was evident that if the instalments were stopped, the Rs9 billion that had already been paid to the aircraft supplier would be put at risk. Who would have been responsible for that?” Adhikari said that they had aimed to increase the national flag carrier’s market share to 60 percent from the current 10 percent by equipping it with more planes. 

“There may be many people who see a bright future for themselves if Nepal Airlines were to collapse,” he told the press meet. “This is not the first attempt to ruin the national flag carrier; it has happened many times before.”

Published: 08-01-2019 07:30

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