Matter of life and debt

Loan sharks are preying on the poorest Nepalis and doing them to debt

Illustration and photos: CIJ-N

Many of the victims of loan sharks who have been demonstrating in Kathmandu for the past months took high-interest loans that multiplied their debt. But among them are also families who are being forced by fraudsters with forged documents to repay money never borrowed. Here are some of them:

Rajaram Sahani 

Rajaram Sahani lives by the highway in Rauthat district. Property prices have soared because of the proposed Nijgad airport, and land grabbers are targeting innocent farmers.

One hot afternoon six years ago, he was handed a legal notice from the District Court that he had not paid back interest and capital on a loan for Rs637,000 from his neighbour, Trailokya Chandra Sahani.

“He had lodged a complaint in the court saying I had not paid back a loan I never took, and he was demanding my land as compensation,” Rajaram says.

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Rajaram and family

He then took the rubber print and his live fingerprint to a forensic lab in Lalitpur where technician Mukul Pradhan confirmed that although the two prints looked alike, one of them was not a real thumb.

With this proof, Rajaram returned to the District Police in Rautahat and showed it to Superintendent Siddhi B Shah. But because the process of investigation would take more than the 24 days that the fake print maker Trailokya Sahani could be legally detained, he was not arrested.  

Rajaram then submitted a complaint to the court which sent the prints back to the forensic lab to again determine if they were rubber prints. A 3-member investigation team that included the same Mukul Pradhan, police DSP Udaya Jung Rana and Biswa Raj Poudel determined that the lab did not have the necessary equipment to confirm the authenticity of the rubber print -- even though two of its members had earlier said it was fake.

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Rajaram loan
Loan document with fake fingerprints of Rajaram Sahani.

The District Court judge Keshav Kumar Pandey ruled that Rajaram was guilty, and ordered he pay back the interest and capital on a loan he never took that now had grown to Rs4.83 million. 

Rajaram’s appeal is sub judice at the Birganj High Court, and he has nothing left to lose and is at the sit-in in the capital against loan sharks. 

Ram Ishwor Sahani

The life of Sarlahi fishmonger Ram Ishwor Sahani and his family was  irrevocably changed when Naresh Kumar Sahani of Gaur filed a case against his 60-year-old mother Malbhogia Kumari for failing to pay off a loan of Rs2 million. 

The plaintiff requested the court to seize Malbhogia’s property if she failed to pay the 10% interest on her loan within the next 45 days. Not only had Malbhogia never borrowed any money from Naresh, neither she nor her family had ever met or heard of the loan shark.

Her son suspected that her mother’s fingerprints might have been misused.

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Rajaram and Ram ishwor
Ram Ishwor Sahani (left) and Rajaram Sahani.

The court ordered a lab analysis of the fingerprint on the loan document against Malbhogia’s own thumb prints, and they did not match. But as soon as the results came out, Naresh successfully filed a petition to withdraw the case without facing any consequences.

Ram Ishwor’s mother is elated, but her son has not found any comfort. The court case had dragged on for two years, and he had had to place his land on collateral during that time.  

“I feared that we would be made homeless,” he explains. He is now planning to file a forgery case against Naresh Kumar Sahani, and is in Kathmandu demanding justice.

Baiju Saha Kanu

Baiju Saha Kanu of Rautahat was vindicated in a similar case involving fake fingerprints, after which he filed a forgery case against his neighbour Ram Binaya Shah, who had taken Baiju to court. 

But Ram Binaya was let off with a Rs30,000 fine, a mere slap on the wrist, and his brother took revenge by filing another fraudulent case against Baiju’s son, dragging the family to court once again. 

“Had he been sent to prison the first time around, neither he nor his family would have had the courage to commit a similar crime,” says Baiju Shah.

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Loan document with fake fingerprints of Baiju Saha Kanu.

Dilli Kumari Karki

Dilli Kumari Karki from Milan Chok in Rautahat lost her 11-year-old daughter Akrita Basnet who committed suicide last year. She believes it was because of the mental torture the family had to endure from loan sharks who were blackmailing them. 

Seven years ago, Karki borrowed Rs60,000 from Rural Development Bank to open a clothing store. To expand the shop, they also borrowed Rs100,000 from a neighbour, Namrata Lama, a local tailor. 

Three months later, Karki’s husband Sukram Basnet decided to become a cosmetic dealer and borrowed an additional Rs350,000 from Lama which the couple managed to return eventually after four months. Later, Lama asked Karki for a blank cheque in her name “just for recordkeeping”. 

Innocently, Karki gave her the signed cheque, and Lama told to her make another one because she “signed it incorrectly” the first time.

Soon, Lama started demanding Rs1.5 million which she added herself on the blank cheque. Karki refused saying she had already repaid her loans, but Lama threatened to bounce the cheque. 

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Dilli NT

Fearing prosecution, Karki started borrowing money from other lenders to pay Lama. But after paying Rs1.5 million, Lama said that was just the “interest” and that Karki still owed the “principle” which amounted to Rs450,000.

When Karki refused, she brought the other blank cheque to threaten her. So she kept on paying “interest” which has now added up to Rs4.5 million.

When Karki tried to sell the family property to pay for the cancer treatment of her mother-in-law they found that Lama had forged land ownership documents, forcing them to reach a settlement by paying off another Rs250,000. 

Karki then tried to sell her own land to get out of the mess. But the middle men tried to threaten and blackmail the family in front of the children. After one such altercation, Karki left for Kathmandu and heard three days later that her daughter had hung herself in her room.

Lama used to call Karki on multiple numbers but when this reporter tried them, she was never available.

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Section 249 ‘A’ of Nepal’s Civil Code was amended through an ordinance in May to make unfair transactions punishable by seven years imprisonment and a fine of up to Rs70,000. A replacement bill was passed by parliament in June. But loan shark lobbies close to the JSP have demanded that the bill be repealed, staging counter-protests at Maitighar.

In Rautahat alone, there have been 1,811 loan cases in the last fiscal year, 90% of which involve forgery and misuse of fingerprints.

In May, the government formed an inquiry commission to address victims of loan sharks under former Special Court Chair Gauri Bahadur Karki, and 24,000 complaints were submitted, most of them from Madhes Province.

Indeed, loan sharks have formed a syndicate in Madhes Province specialising in obtaining fingerprints from official documents and making rubber impressions, forging loan documents, bribing court and forensic officials and obtaining customised lab reports from the National Forensic Science Laboratory in Lalitpur.

Read also: Crime and/or Punishment in Nepal, Sonia Awale

Reporting by: Centre for Investigative Journalism-Nepal, Man Bahadur Basnet, Sagar Chand, and Archana Darji

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