Writing on the front pages of Kantipur and The Kathmandu Post, the editors of the papers today say that a high-ranking official from a foreign diplomatic mission (Indian mission) in Kathmandu had called them on Friday night to inquire if they were interested in publishing the alleged Mahara conversation with a man with Chinese accent. Kantipur editor writes that they, along with about a dozen other Nepali editors, were having regular informal discussions with the Chinese ambassador in Baluwatar when the call from the diplomat came to the Post editor. “We have a recorded telephone conversation, can you publish it?” said the diplomat.
“What’s that about?”
“You will know once you listen to it,” was the reply to Upadhyay.
Later we learned from other sources that the conversation was between Maoist leader KB Mahara and a man alleged to be Chinese. But it was not clear who that “Chinese” was and the telephone numbers on which the conversation took place. It was also not clear how that was recorded. The caller only wanted to know if we could publish that conversation today. (continue reading Kantipur editor’s account in Nepali below)
By Akhilesh Upadhyay
Editor, The Kathmandu Post (on the front page, today)
Not everyday do newspapers feel the need to explain to their readers why they did what they did. Many of you may have wondered—some have aloud to our ears—why the Kathmandu Post on Saturday did not carry a news item which has otherwise received great prominence in some papers. This demands an explanation. The issues at hand are of utmost gravity. The story in question is about the allegation that China was all set to make a huge cash infusion to the Maoist party to influence the outcome of the sixth round of prime ministerial election slated for Sunday.
According to the news carried in some newspapers and TV networks on Friday night and Saturday morning, China had assured the Maoist leadership of Rs. 500 million. The money, the news suggests, would be enough to garner support of 50 non-Maoist lawmakers whose backing in turn would be enough to elect UCPN (Maoist) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal as the prime minister. The story obviously implicates China in high-stake horse trading. Naturally then, some ran the story with a caveat: Authenticity of the leaked audio tape of the conversation between Maoist leader Krishna Bahadur Mahara and “a Chinese official”, on which the story rests, could not be independently established.
We felt exactly the same Friday night. And we decided to stick to our conviction. If the veracity of the audio-tape cannot be established, why run a “scoop” based on it on Page 1, or at all? While most editors in an ideal scenario would like any controversial news to be vetted through independent confirmation, that is not always possible, especially so when it comes to the grind of daily journalism. This particular story had developed late in the day. And the cost of letting a half-baked story run was very high: it was a serious allegation against a neighbour that has steadfastly kept out of day-to-day political drama; the story was bound to have some bearing on the public perception of China, the Maoist party and the lawmakers supposedly getting the Chinese money. And arguably on the outcome of the election on Sunday too.
But there are still other things to mull over.
If true, the China story casts the Maoist party in an extremely poor light. It demonstrates that the party’s criticism of the ills of the parliamentary system is empty rhetoric and that the party is willing to resort to dirty tactical games to gain power. Further, and even more disturbing, is the fact that a party that has supposedly always stood for national autonomy and criticised intervention of external powers in Nepali politics is itself willing to invite and use external support to counter its rivals. If established, China will have some explaining to do too.
The story, as at least two other editors confirmed on Friday night, was leaked to the press by a diplomatic mission. Is Nepal getting caught up in a big power rivalry? Is the Indian Embassy, at the receiving end lately for micromanaging Nepali political parties and the media, trying to deflect attention elsewhere? Now that China has been dragged into a high-powered political drama, does this mark the beginning of a new level of open rivalry between the two giant neighbours? Is Nepal now the new front? If the audio was the result of a “sting,” who is carrying out such a sting? Are they authorised to record conversations of members of a sovereign parliament? Who else is being wire-tapped and for what purpose? These are broader issues that need answers.
For now, the timing of the audiotape episode, coming smack before the crucial prime ministerial election where Maoist Chairman Dahal had reportedly gained greater support from the Madhesi lawmakers, is no less meaningful. It will certainly harden sections in Delhi, which have always been wary of Maoists and their alleged China tilt.
टेप कहाँबाट आयो ?
सम्पादक, कान्तिपुर (आजको प्रथम पृष्ठमा)
चिनियाँ राजदूतले नेपाली मिडियाका प्रमुख सम्पादकहरूसँग बेलाबखत बालुवाटारको एक घरमा अनौपचारिक अन्तक्रिर्या गर्ने गर्छन् । शुक्रबार साँझ पनि करिब एक दर्जन सम्पादकहरूसँग उनी खुलेर कुराकानी गर्दैथिए, त्यहीं अर्को मित्रराष्ट्रका एक वरिष्ठ कूटनीतिज्ञको फोन आयो । उनको भनाइ थियो- एउटा टेलिफोन टेप छ, छाप्न सक्नु हुन्छ ?
के हो भनी सोध्दा सहकर्मी सम्पादक अखिलेश उपाध्यायलाई उनले यतिमात्र भने- सुनेपछि थाहा पाइहाल्छौ ।
कान्तिपुर, काठमान्डु पोस्ट र कान्तिपुर टेलिभिजनका हामी तीनैजना सम्पादक संयोगले त्यहाँ सँगै थियौं ।
सूचना अरू स्रोतबाट आउन थाले । माओवादी नेता कृष्णबहादुर महराले चिनियाँ भनिएका कसैसँग ५० करोड रुपैयाँ मागेको टेलिफोन टेप रहेछ । तर ती ‘चिनियाँ’ को हुन् ? कुन-कुन फोन नम्बरमा कुराकानी भएको हो ? त्यो रेकर्ड कसरी भयो ? प्रस्ट थिएन । सोध्नेको चासो यतिमात्र थियो- आजै छाप्न सकिन्छ कि सकिन्न ?
एउटा छिमेकीलाई जोडेर अर्कोबाट आएको अपुष्ट सूचनालाई कसरी पत्याइहाल्ने ? हामीले टेप सुनेर, बुझेर भरपर्दो लागेमात्र छाप्न सक्ने निधो गर्यौं । तर प्रस्तावक यो ‘झन्झट’ बेहोर्ने पक्षमा थिएनन्, उनी जसरी पनि तत्कालै त्यसलाई सार्वजनिक गर्न चाहन्थे । त्यसैले विकल्पतिर लागे ।
चिनियाँ राजदूतकै रात्रिभोजमा रहेका अन्य केही सम्पादकहरूको पनि फोन बज्यो । केही क्षणपछि त्यो समाचार एउटा टेलिभिजनमा देखियो । अनि दुइटा प्रकाशन गृहले शनिबार त्यसलाई मुखपृष्ठमा प्राथमिकता दिए ।
काठमाडौंस्थित एक दूतावासबाट वितरित त्यो समाचार सत्य हुन पनि सक्छ, नहुन पनि । हामी सञ्चारकर्मीले स्वतन्त्र खोजबिन नगरी त्यसलाई सार्वजनिक गरिहालेको र चौतर्फी प्रतिक्रियासमेत आइसकेकाले सत्यतथ्य पहिल्याउनु अब सायद निकै जटिल हुनेछ ।
प्रधानमन्त्री निर्वाचनमा फोहोरी खेल चलिरहेका बेला माओवादी आर्थिक लेनदेनमा लागेको सूचना आफैंमा नौलो होइन । माओवादीले आफूलाई पाँच करोडको प्रस्ताव राखेको माले महासचिव सीपी मैनालीले भर्खरै खुलासा गरेका छन् र त्यससम्बन्धी विश्वासिलो खण्डनसमेत आएको छैन । यस्तो पृष्ठभूमिमा माओवादीसँग जोडिएर आएको पैसाको चलखेलसम्बन्धी खबरलाई मिडियाले पत्याउनु अस्वाभाविक होइन ।
तर एउटा विदेशी दूतावासले ‘चिनियाँ’ सँगको कुराकानी भन्दै चुहाएको सूचनाका आधारमा सिंगो चीनलाई जोडेर प्रस्तुत गर्नु कत्तिको परिपक्वता हो ? भोलि अर्को विदेशीले कुनै भारतीयलाई जोडेर टेप दियो भने हौसिएर पूरै भारतलाई तानेर लेख्ने ? संवेदनशील तर अपुष्ट सूचनालाई छानबिनबिनै हामीले सार्वजनिक गर्न थाल्यौं भने तथ्य खोज्ने हाम्रो दायित्व के हुन्छ ? एउटा विदेशीले अर्कोलाई उत्तेजित पार्न खोज्ने र हामी त्यसको सहज माध्यम बनिदिने हो भने नेपाल-भारतको जटिल भूराजनीतिले ‘दुई ढुंगे तरुल’ लाई कहाँ पुर्याउला ? टेप प्रकरण यी सबै जिज्ञासाका निम्ति एउटा पाठ हो ।
The following is Republica’s coverage of Mahara conversation.
|Controversial tape claims Mahara sought Rs 500 m from China to buy lawmakers|
REPUBLICA [on the front page, yesterday]
KATHMANDU, Sept 4: Various TV stations here have aired a controversial and explosive audio tape, supposedly of a phone conversation between Maoist leader Krishna Bahadur Mahara and a Chinese official.
In the phone conversation, Mahara (as claimed by the TV stations) asks the man at the other end of the phone, who spoke with a Chinese accent, for financial help of 500 million rupees, needed to influence 50 lawmakers to vote for the Maoist chairman in the upcoming election for prime minister.
Republica could not independently verify the authenticity of the audio tape. We also could not talk to any Chinese embassy official for their comment on the contents of the audio tape, but Maoist leader Mahara has refuted the audio tape, in a statement issued late evening on Friday.
Mahara refutes TV reports
The UCPN (Maoist) has refuted news broadcasts by several television stations about purported talks between the party´s leader, Krishna Bahadur Mahara, and Chinese officials.
Issuing a press statement, Maoist International Bureau chief Krishna Bahadur Mahara said the presentation tilted Exclusive News aired by the Nepal 1 channel on Friday evening has left him stunned.
“I wish to clarify that the broadcast audio tape purportedly on exchanges with Chinese officials for purposes of horse-trading and to which my name has been linked is fabricated and totally baseless, misleading and fictitious,” he said.
Mahara said in the statement that the news report was a fabrication of lies in a calculated attempt at character assassination against him personally, and to sabotage the positive initiative taken by the party to end the current political deadlock. “I urge one and all not to be misled by such lies,” he added.
The text below is a transcription of the audio aired by the Nepal1 TV station:
Unknown person with Chinese accent: Mr Mahara, how is the trend in Nepal? And the next election is coming up and do you think hoping in the result?
Mahara: It is very near, right now it is also not clear.
Unknown person: Do you think Maoists can get enough seats?
Mahara: No chance. We are trying but it is so difficult.
Unknown person: What causing the problem to enough seats?
Mahara: We have already 10 to 15 seats but maybe around 50.
Unknown person: You need additional 50? And Mr Mahara what kind of help could help you to get the 50 seats?
Mahara: That is most difficult task, because the south center there are guided, control to them. So the first thing, it is necessary to neutralize south. Second thing some of the money also needed.
Unknown person: What the amount you are talking about?
Mahara: It is not clear. It must be discussed with our chairman.
Unknown person: Mr Mahara, I have one of my friends who is thinking about to help but he cannot come to Nepal. So we are wondering if there is possible we can set up a meeting somewhere else.
Mahara: Where is his convenience?
Unknown person: Do you think Hong Kong is possible for you?
Mahara: With whom does he want to meet?
Unknown person: For this matter only, you and the chairman. Nobody else.
Mahara: It is very difficult to move here and there to our chairman. When he goes to the Hong Kong everybody propagates. Because he was … (as heard) prime minister and he is the candidate of the prime minister also.
Unknown person: So you represent him to meet with my friend?
Mahara: Yes, I am ready, everywhere I can go, here and there, but this message must be sent to him – to our Prachanda. If you send the message to Prachanda and if it is difficult to you, then he can give me all authority.
Unknown person: OK, this our plan, Mr Mahara. We are thinking about to meet you first to talk about detail how to help Maoist to get the 50 seats.
Mahara: The most important place is if you have the China, China means in the Chengdu. It is the best place nobody knows.
Unknown person: This is very sensitive and we don´t want to have anything to do with between the government, you know that what I mean.
Mahara: Then Singapore is another place. In Hong Kong, there are lots of Nepalis, but Singapore is best.
Unknown person: …let me talk to my friend.
Mahara: Hong Kong also maybe… This evening I will call you.
Unknown person: Can you let me know me the possibilities of Hong Kong, next two days?
Mahara: In this phone?
Unknown person: Yes, I am waiting for your call by this number.
Mahara: From your source you must send this message to our chairman.
Unknown person: You want me to talk to Mr Chairman? I will call, OK.
Mahara: Your suggestion – I have talked with my chairman and we have also discussed. One thing is that someone is also talking with our chairman, that is correct.
Unknown person: I don´t know, so far from my side only my friend, me, you and Mr Chairman.
Mahara: But he has not concrete only this is the but I have discussed with my chairman. And he says because the election is now only four days left – from outside, minimum 50 members need. For 50 members, if we cost them then they minimum 10 million Nepalese rupees (1 crore) per person.
Unknown person: 10 million per person, that is 100 lac per person?
Mahara: Yes, 100 lac Nepalese rupees per person.
Unknown person: Alright. Actually, the friend that I have mentioned he might be… but I don´t want to mention his name over the phone for his own protection. Mr Mahara, you can come up with some kind of help; he wants to talk to you first because he needs to know detail due to his … if you will be able to pay a visit in Hong Kong.
Mahara: Yes, it is OK, but Hong Kong is there are so many Nepalese.
Unknown person: For other countries he will need the special visa and that will be people´s attention that he does not want but for Hong Kong he can go there and nobody will know from here.
Unknown person: We are open at any time but for you when will be good time?
Mahara: But it is only four days because we need before four days but I will try to tomorrow or today.
Unknown person: How long you need to stay in Hong Kong? One night?
Mahara: Yes, one night is sufficient.
Unknown person: OK, we can go anytime. So it is upto you.
Mahara: So I call to this 10 or 12 o´clock this afternoon. I can go this evening also. For discussion to me it is not sensitive but I can arrange anything in another side – another side means the side I suppose just I called an another name and please see my email. Please open after 10 minutes.
Unknown person: Yes, I am going to meeting, probably I will be able to check my email around 10 am Nepalese time and Mr Mahara if you go to the Hong Kong you just need to tell me the place where I can pick you up.