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Nepal's finance minister quits after parliament speaker orders probe

Kitco News

KATHMANDU, July 6 (Reuters) - Nepal's Finance Minister Janardan Sharma resigned on Wednesday after the parliamentary speaker ordered an investigation into allegations of unauthorised changes in the state budget.

His resignation comes as Nepal faces surging inflation and a fall in its foreign exchange reserves.

Opposition parties and some lawmakers of the ruling centre-left alliance have accused Sharma of inviting "unauthorised persons" to make changes in some tax rates in the federal budget just a day before he presented the spending plan for the fiscal year 2022-23. He has denied any wrongdoing.

The "unauthorised persons" refers to people outside the government with no legal power to make amendments to the budget.

"I am resigning to help the investigation," Sharma told lawmakers, reiterating that he hadnot done anything wrong.

"I am ready to face not one but thousands of investigations."

Local media reports have said the changes were made in the budget to favour some businesses.

Parliamentary speaker Agni Prasad Sapkota gave the multi-party 11-member investigating panel 10 days to examine the opposition's accusations.

'UNPARDONABLE'

Pressure on Sharma has also mounted after the finance ministry said CCTV footage from the day when the alleged changes in the budget were made was not available.

Sharma, a former Maoist rebel leader, was involved in removing central bank governor Maha Prasad Adhikari in April, accusing him of leaking sensitive financial information to the media. Adhikari was later reinstated by the Supreme Court.

Pradeep Gyawali, a former foreign minister and an opposition leader told Reuters that Sharma should already have resigned over what he said were "unpardonable" mistakes in allowing unauthorised people to make changes in the budget.

"To hide his mistakes he was instrumental in destroying the CCTV footage of the day," Gyawali said.

Sharma was not immediately available to comment on the CCTV allegation.

However, Barsaman Pun, a lawmaker in Sharma's Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) said no new finance minister would be appointed pending the outcome of the investigation.

"If he is found innocent by the investigation panel, he will be taking over as finance minister again," Pun told reporters.

Nepal, a landlocked country between China and India, has been battered by sharp increases in global prices of crude oil and other commodities.

Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba's government banned the import of luxury goods until mid-July to rein in capital outflows as the forex reserves fell to about $9 billion - enough to last the country around six months.

Reporting by Gopal Sharma; Writing by Manoj Kumar; Editing by Gareth Jones
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