Though the Maoists, the dominant party in the coalition government, are keeping mum about a proposed $3 billion project to develop Lumbini, the sacred city where the Buddha was born, their own leaders agreed to the deal and also inked it, according to information provided by the Chinese ambassador to Nepal, Yang Houlan, to Nepal's ethnic politicians Tuesday.
As the ambassador Tuesday paid a courtesy call on Mahantha Thakur, chief of the Terai-based Terai Madhes Loktantrik Party, he was asked about the controversy by Hridayesh Tripathi, an influential member of parliament from the party.
The controversy was triggered last month when the Chinese media reported that a Hong Kong-based organisation, the Asia Pacific Exchange and Cooperation Foundation, had signed a $3 billion deal with the UN Industrial Development Organisation to develop Lumbini into a "Buddhist Mecca", complete with an international airline and rail tracks.
The reports were rebutted by the then cultural secretary of Nepal, Modraj Dotel, who said an agreement without the host country's presence was invalid and that Nepal would not allow it to take place.
Lumbini is managed by the Lumbini Development Trust that falls under the culture ministry. The Trust also said it had no knowledge of the deal.
However, the Chinese ambassador told leaders of the Terai party Tuesday that the tourism ministry of the current government had signed a memorandum of understanding with the Foundation.
"The envoy said the finance, foreign and culture ministries were not informed about the MoU, which triggered the controversy," Tripathi told IANS.
"He also said the Foundation was an NGO and its co-chairman was Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda," Tripathi added.
The tourism and civil aviation ministry is headed by Maoist leader Khadga Bahadur Biswokarma.
The revelation indicates that the Maoist leaders were complicit in the deal but kept the government in the dark as well as held their peace when the controversy erupted.
To add to the mystery surrounding the Foundation, Prachanda left for Malaysia Sunday, saying he was attending a conference hosted by it.
However, the Foundation's top officials are currently in Nepal and have already visited Lumbini.
Despite the controversy, they are not ready to abandon the deal.
"The Chinese ambassador said that the Foundation was ready to coordinate with the Nepal government and the master plan for the development of Lumbini drawn up by Japanese architect Kenzo Tange," Tripathi said.
The Nepali politician, who is also member of a parliamentary committee that reviews the progress of pacts, said he had asked parliament chairman Subash Nembang, who heads the body, to call a meeting soon to discuss the controversy.
The Foundation's credibility came under further fire after the discovery that Nepal's deposed playboy crown prince Paras Bikram Shah is also a co-chairman and that its office address in Hong Kong was reportedly a shop.