Minister Baskota allegedly caught on tape negotiating Rs700 million commissionA leaked audio recording reportedly has Baskota negotiating the size of a commission with the local agent of a Swiss company vying for a security printing contract.
Gokul Baskota, the minister for communication and information technology, has allegedly been caught on audio negotiating for a Rs700 million "commission" with the agent for a Swiss company, according to a leaked audio recording obtained by the news portal, hamrokura.com.
On the recording, which was published along with a transcript on Thursday, Baskota can be heard negotiating with Bijaya Prakash Sharma Mishra, the local agent for a Swiss company vying for a government contract regarding security printing of passports and other sensitive material, according to hamrokura.
The Post has not been able to independently verify that it is Baskota's voice on the recording.
On the recording, the two voices discuss various ways of extracting commission and the sharing out of that commission. The voice said to belong to Mishra informs that the Swiss company will be coming to Nepal on the invitation of the Swiss embassy with an expectation of signing a Memorandum of Understanding.
The voice reported to be Baskota's can be heard agreeing to manage time for the meeting.
The two voices discuss "capacity" and whether to go "out of track" to extract the most commission. There is a negotiation over what percentage of the commission will go to whom and the voice that has been identified as Baskota advises that the total deal be revised to Rs27 billion from Rs25 billion. The same voice can be heard disparaging bureaucrats using foul language.
The primary opposition Nepali Congress immediately called for Baskota's removal and an investigation into the allegations.
"The Nepali Congress publicly calls on Prime Minister Oli to immediately remove Baskota and assist in an impartial investigation," said Congress Spokesperson Bishwa Prakash Sharma in a statement.
The government has been mulling over the construction of a security printing press in Nepal. A MoU to this effect had been signed with France in March, last year, but a competing German bid had complicated matters. As negotiations continued, the Department of Passports had informed about the fast dwindling stock of passports, forcing the government to call for a global tender in August. However, the application process was scrapped at the last minute, reportedly on direct orders from Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli.
Even as the stock of sensitive documents like passports and customs stickers continue to fall by the day, the government has yet to call for another tender or conduct a government-to-government deal.
The audio recording now places both the security printing tender and Oli in a fix. As recently as Saturday, Oli had said that he would not tolerate corruption within his administration. Baskota, however, is one of Oli's closest confidantes.
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