Minister Baskota lands in controversy after 'bargaining for commission' audio-clip leaks

KATHMANDU: Minister for Communication and Information Technology Gokul Prasad Baskota is under scrutiny following the leak of an audiotape in which he is heard negotiating kickbacks with a Swiss equipment supplier in the government’s security printing press procurement deal.

The report was first published by Hamra Kura, an online news portal, along with the audio in which Minister Baskota is heard talking about a commission of Rs 700 million with an 'agent'. It may be noted that the Minister is also using abusive language to address project employees.

The person who is in conversation with Minister Baskota is understood to be a Nepali agent of the Swiss company interested in setting up the press, Bijay Prakash Mishra. The two are heard talking about which "track" must be taken to get higher commission.

THT Online tried to access the response of the Prime Minister's Office in this regard. Surya Thapa, press advisor to the Prime Minister, said that it would be better to wait for the communication minister's statement which he will deliver through a press meet later today. On being probed further on the Prime Minister's take on the matter, Thapa said, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli will first talk to the Minister and will address the issue only after Minister Baskota goes public with his statement.

Party Co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal was also seen entering the Prime Minister's official residence this morning. On asking if Nepal Communist Party (NCP) chairperson duo met to discuss the controversy and the course of action, Thapa denied saying that it was just a regular meeeting.

We tried to reach Minister Baskota seeking his response but he was unavailable to comment.

In January, the House panel had started a probe following complaints registered at the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that billions of rupees had been embezzled in the process of establishing the security printing press and procuring necessary equipment and machinery.

The government is preparing to bring in security press worth Rs 35 billion as per government-to-government modality from France and Germany. By establishing a security printing press in the country, the government plans to print secured documents, certificates and stickers including passports, excise-duty stickers, and vehicle driving licences on its own.