The actress and Gurkha rights campaigner Joanna Lumley was warned about allegations that a Nepalese charity was charging money to former soldiers to seek to settle in Britain and asked to speak out against the practice nine months ago, it has been claimed.
A former lawyer for the Gurkha Army’s Ex-Servicemen’s Organisation (Gaeso) made the claims, saying that he told Ms Lumley and another fellow campaigner Peter Carroll that money was changing hands during their visit to Nepal in July last year.
Gopal Siwakoti Chintan, who has left Gaeso after acting for 10 years as their legal advisor, said that he and other activists also wanted solicitors Howe & Co, who had acted for a number of Gurkhas seeking the right to live in the UK through Gaeso referrals, to condemn the paying of “voluntary” donations to Gaeso.
Mr Chintan told the Nepal Times newspaper: "Basically we tried to persuade Joanna and Peter Carroll that Howe & Co should be asked to stop it. We wanted, through Joanna, Peter Carroll and Howe & Co solicitors, somehow them to be saying in public that no Gurkha should pay any money.
“If one of them had said that during Joanna Lumley's visit then the Gurkhas would not have done it and [Gaeso president] Padam Bahadur Gurung wouldn't have the guts to continue this practice." Mr Chintan suggested that Ms Lumley and the other campaigners did not want to get mixed up in Gaeso's internal affairs.
Nepal Times also published emails from Gurkha veterans to Howe & Co’s UK offices warning that Gaeso was allegedly charging £500 to each applicant. The emails suggest Howe & Co had raised the matter with GAESO in 2007 but been reassured by Gaeso’s insistence that payments were not demanded.
The documents, and Mr Chintan’s claims, will be investigated by the UK Justice Department which is carrying out an inquiry into the matter.
Defence minister Kevan Jones, who asked for the inquiry to be held, last week offered a public “ unreserved apology” to Ms Lumley after accusing her of not speaking up about Gurkhas having their expectations raised. He had said: “Her deathly silence, frankly, irritates me.”
Ms Lumley said at the time: "It has been suggested that I somehow was parachuted in, took the headlines and ran. I feel that is a smear. It has been suggested that I somehow spread falsehoods amongst the Gurkha communities both here and in Nepal about what they could expect. That is a lie and therefore a smear. The people who made those accusations must know them to be untrue."
Howe & Co acted for its Gurkha clients on a legal aid basis.