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Nepal Confronts Mystery of Missing Royal Wealth


The Nepalese parliament has ordered the properties of its disgraced royal family nationalized. But as Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, the government is making little headway in finding the fabulous wealth the royals are believed to own.

For decades, ordinary Nepalese have listened to accounts of the massive wealth under the control of their tiny country's royal family.

Besides jewels and several palaces, the late King Birendra and his wife were believed to have huge cash assets.

After Birendra was killed in a palace massacre in 2001, the crown passed to his brother, Gyanendra, and the royal wealth came under the Gyanendra's control.

Now, a committee appointed by the government to determine the extent of the royal family's wealth is making slow progress.

Home Minister Krishna Prasad Situala told parliament this week that the committee has traced foreign bank accounts in the name of the late king's family that at one point held approximately $275,000. He said much of that money was transferred out by Gyanendra in 2003.

The committee has also traced some plots of land in the former king's name.

Lawmakers have called the report "unrealistic". They say there is no account of the jewels, luxury cars and shares in leading companies the palace was reported to own.

The editor of the Kathmandu Post newspaper, Prateek Pradhan, says the government is serious about establishing the true extent of the royal wealth, but the process will take time.

"Basically, the government is trying to unearth all the assets of the King and then they are trying to find out whether it is personal property or it belongs to the state," Pradhan said.

King Gyanendra was stripped of all his powers last year after he angered the nation by seizing power and dismissing parliament.

The committee to assess the royal wealth was appointed earlier this year after parliament decided to nationalize the palaces and property that Gyanendra had inherited from his brother. The plan was to put the assets in a trust to be used for public welfare.

But Gyanendra is known to have been wealthy in his own right before he became king and inherited the royal assets. He is reported to have a stake in many businesses - and the committee is attempting to establish how much of that was purchased from personal funds, and how much from the royal assets.

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