Ousted Nepal crown prince in police custody after gun brawl

Last Updated: Tue, Dec 14, 2010 09:40 hrs

Kathmandu, Dec 14 (IANS) The shadow of arrest and criminal charges darkened over Nepal's controversial former crown prince Paras Bir Bikram Shah after police took him into custody Tuesday for questioning him about a gun brawl during the weekend.

Policemen in large numbers surrounded the plush Fulbari resort in Pokhara Tuesday, where the 39-year-old former heir to Nepal's throne, had flown with his friends after creating a hullabaloo during the weekend in southern Nepal.

After a standoff with the hotel authorities, police had taken Paras under control and were readying to fly him back to Chitwan district, where the brawl had occurred, for questioning.

The payback for the wayward prince started after he got into a drunken dispute with a fellow guest Saturday night at the Tiger Tops wildlife lodge in Chitwan district, threatened his victim and fired shots in the air.

Ordinarily, the brawl would have been hushed up but the incident snowballed since the victim was the son-in-law of Deputy Prime Minister Sujata Koirala.

Paras reportedly declined to speak, saying he wanted to return to his residence in Kathmandu and consult his lawyers first.

The police action came after mounting public and political pressure on the caretaker government of Nepal to take punitive action against the wayward former royal.

The 39-year-old controversial former heir to Nepal's throne, notorious for his quick temper and fondness for alcohol, hit the headlines with a vengeance two years after the abolition of monarchy in Nepal and his self-exile to Singapore for picking a drink-driven fight with Rubel Chowdhury, a Bangladeshi national married to Koirala's daughter Melanie.

During the quarrel, Paras allegedly threatened to kill Chowdhury along with his wife and three-and-a-half year old son, and finally fired several shots in the air.

As media outcry and political condemnation started pouring in, it was also discovered that the pony-tailed former prince did not have a licence for his pistol.

Though Nepal's weak caretaker government had initially turned a blind eye to the shooting, it was however forced to take token action after protests by Koirala's Nepali Congress, the largest party in the ruling alliance, and the media outcry.

After a four-member police team had been sent to the Chitwan resort to investigate, the home ministry said it had also formed a second probe panel headed by a deputy inspector-general of police.

This is the first time that police have taken into custody a member of the erstwhile royal family that, though stripped of all legal immunity after the abolition of monarchy in 2008, continues to wield formidable power still.

Paras' victim, Rubel Chowdhury remained shaken still.

Chowdhury said Paras had got into a conversation with him at the Chitwan resort Saturday night.

Initially, he seemed a 'nice guy', Chowdhury said, till he began drinking.

Then a change came over the former crown prince who revealed his raw wound at having lost his chance to become the king of Nepal and being turned into a commoner.

Chowdhury said he accused the Koirala family of being instrumental in the abolition of monarchy and threatened to kill Chowdhury, his wife and son.

Issuing a statement soon after the brawl, Paras said Chowdhury and his companion, an Indian, had insulted him, his family and his country, an allegation that Chowdhury denied.

'How could I insult Nepal?' Chowdhury said. 'I am married to a Nepali myself.'

Paras' new escapade resurrects the ghost of the royal massacre of 2001 when King Birendra and nine more members of the royal family were killed in a hail of bullets in the tightly guarded royal palace, paving the way for Paras' father Gyanendra to ascend the throne.

Paras, who was present during the carnage but survived, is regarded with suspicion by Nepalis despite his statements that the bloodbath was perpetrated by Birendra's son Dipendra.

Now there is also fresh public concern about the number of illegal firearms still lying in the possession of Nepal's former royals.

Carrying a gun illegally can fetch its owner a fine ranging from NRS 60,000-140,000 or a prison sentence of up to seven years or both.

He could also face an attempt to murder, which carries a maximum prison sentence of 16 years.



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