Print Edition - 2018-10-11 | News
Nepal buys Rs 700m mansion for its ambassador in Washington
Oct 11, 2018-
At a time when state agencies have been prescribed austerity to reduce burden on the public coffers, the government has purchased a lavish mansion as the residence of the Nepali ambassador to the United States of America at a cost of $6.8 million—approximately Rs700 million.
The cost, which does not include the additional three percent commission to the middleman, totals the entire rent Nepal pays for all its missions aboard annually, including the embassy buildings, and residences of the embassy staff and the ambassadors.
The cost of the new ambassador’s residence is slightly lower than that of the residences purchased by former US President Barack Obama, who spent $8.1 million to buy an 8,200 square-foot house. US President Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, also rents a home in the same neighbourhood. The 6,870 square-foot building with six bedrooms and seven bathrooms belongs to a billionaire who bought it for $5.5 million. By comparison, the new asset purchased by Nepal, on 2911 University Ter NW, spreads over 10,135 square feet and has seven bedrooms and 10 bathrooms.
In an interview with the Post, Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali and Nepali Ambassador to the United States Arjun Karki confirmed the purchase of the new mansion for the ambassadorial residence. Karki is considered a close confidant of Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli and was appointed ambassador on the erstwhile CPN-UML quota. The decision to procure the mansion and release the money was made after Oli was elected the prime minister.
Some members of the Nepali diaspora in Washington, Virginia and Maryland and those in the diplomatic circle have raised the issue of transparency while procuring the mansion.
“Another property of moderate rate can be easily found in the DC area. There was no need to purchase such an expensive mansion,” said a former Nepali diplomat who served in Washington DC. “Why did they look at only two properties and not consider other alternatives?” asked a sitting Foreign Ministry official. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were assisting individuals investigating the nature of the deal.
According to Karki, the old ambassadorial residence will be used as the new embassy premises and the current embassy building will be redeveloped as the staff residence.
The upkeep of the new property, according to individuals privy to the deal, is about $20,000 per month, the cost of the total salary and operation budget for a month for the entire embassy. Although Nepal had been searching for a new residence building for the ambassador for some time, the decision to purchase a new mansion was taken only a few months ago. The government had formed a team to weigh the options and report to the Foreign Ministry after a field visit.
“The process for purchasing the residence had been going on for a couple of years and we had zeroed in on two assets in DC,” Karki told the Post. “The government had allocated $8.5 million in its budget. The new asset is approved by the US State Department and we purchased it through a legal agency,” said Karki.
The team making the decision involved Nepali ambassadors to New York and Canada, one senior staff at the Nepali Embassy in Washington DC, and some officials from the foreign and finance ministries.
The team jointly visited Washington but staff at the Nepali Embassy there did not take them for a site visit, recalls former foreign minister Prakash Sharan Mahat.
“After the team failed to inspect the property, our plan to purchase a building in Washington was abandoned,” he said.
Gyawali, the foreign minister, denied a shoddy deal in procuring the building. “We reduced the price of the property by $400,000, after thorough evaluation by an independent property valuation agency. So the deal is transparent,” he said.
“We are planning to have permanent buildings or residences for the embassy staff in some 15 capitals where we have diplomatic presence,” said Gyawali.
The Nepal government also purchased recently a new building in Thailand, and is looking for properties in Canberra, Brussels, Geneva, and Tokyo.
Published: 11-10-2018 07:42