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From gold smuggling to land grabs and fake refugee papers, web of scandals ensnares Nepali politicians and businessmen

Gold Smuggling

Gold smuggling NT

On orders of Home Minister Rabi Lamichhane, police on Monday arrested Maoist vice-chair and former House Speaker Krishna Bahadur Mahara in Bhairawa while he was trying to escape to India. He is accused of involvement in smuggling 60kg of gold concealed in motorcycle brake parts from Hong Kong last year, as well as 9kg of gold concealed inside vape devices in December 2022. Mahara’s son Rahul has been in custody since last August. 

Police arrested customs officials, Chinese and Indian nationals, and middlemen involved in smuggling the 60kg, while a Chinese trader was detained for gold hidden in e-cigarettes. Police uncovered phone records of Mahara and his son apparently pressuring customs officials to release the seized gold.

Other Maoists, including Finance Minister Barsaman Pun, former Speaker Onsari Gharti Magar, son of former vice-president Nanda Bahadur Pun Dipesh Pun, are also implicated in the investigation report.  

Dipesh Pun was found to be directly linked to Dawa Tsering, the Belgian national thought to be the mastermind behind gold smuggling, who was arrested again last week after being released earlier.  

Finance Minister Barsaman Pun and his brother are alleged to have been in touch with one of the people said to be directly involved in the smuggling. They are so far not under investigation. 

Baluwatar Land Grab

Lalita Niwas NT

Almost 14.45 hectares of real estate in Baluwatar nationalised by the government was parcelled out to private owners by brokers since the 1990s under the guise of returning it to Subarna Sumsher’s family. Former prime ministers, ministers, party leaders, bureaucrats, and land revenue officials are all said to have their hands in the honey pot.   

In 2023, the CIB recommended that the government prosecute those implicated, including former prime ministers Babauram Bhattarai and Madhav Kumar Nepal whose Cabinets allowed ownership of the land to be transferred to private entities. Senior UML leader Bijay Gachhadar was named, as was Bishnu Poudel of the UML who later returned a part of the property. 

Middlemen Ramkumar Subedi and Shobhakant Dhakal, Bhatbhateni Supermarket owner Min Bahadur Gurung, as well as officials of the Land Revenue Office were arrested for alleged involvement last year. Baburam Bhattarai and Madhav Kumar Nepal have been spared, and Bishnu Paudel cleared.

Fake Refugee scandal

Fake Bhutanese refugee NT

Reporter Devendra Bhattarai for the Centre for Investigative Journalism Nepal broke the story in Kantipur in March 2023 about top politicians and bureaucrats in cahoots with human traffickers to provide Nepalis with fake refugee papers so they could emigrate to the United States pretending to be from Bhutan.  

The masterminds were said to be Keshav Dulal, adviser to former Foreign Minister Sujata Koirala, and Sanu Bhandari who worked with former Home Minister Bal Krishna Khand with then home secretary Tek Narayan Pandey. 

In May, police arrested Khand as well as UML leaders Top Bahadur Rayamajhi and his son, as well as the son of UML vice chair Ram Bahadur Thapa. Those arrested implicated Arzu Rana Deuba, wife of former Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, and Manju Khand, wife of Bal Krishna Khand.

Both have denied the accusations and the CIB did not investigate them despite leaked tapes purporting to prove they were paid millions. Bal Krishna Khand was released on bail in December, while Top Bahadur Rayamajhi remains in custody. 

Cooperatives fraud

Cooperatives NT

Last year arrest warrants were issued for Galaxy TV co-founder and former chair of Suryadarshan Cooperative G B Rai for embezzling deposits to fund business ventures. Rai is also alleged to have misappropriated more than Rs1 billion from Supreme Cooperative in Butwal and other microfinance institutions in Chitwan, Birganj and Kathmandu. Rai is on the run. 

Home Minister Rabi Lamichhane was co-founder of Galaxy TV, and was also accused of cheating cooperatives to bankroll the media company he co-owned. Lamichhane has refuted all allegations and since becoming Home Minister again transferred Kiran Bajracharya, the CIB chief investigating the cooperative fraud case. Instead, he jailed Maoist vice-chair Krishna Bahadur Mahara for his reported involvement in multiple gold smuggling scams and appears to be going after big fish in the NC next. 

Dipesh Pun, son of former vice-president Nanda Bahadur Pun was arrested last week for his involvement in gold smuggling is also one of those named in the Supreme Cooperative fraud case.

Bansbari Land Scam

Land scam Bansbari NT

In February, the CIB arrested Arun Chaudhary of CG Holdings over alleged involvement in the illegal acquisition of 0.51 hectare of the government-owned Bansbari shoe factory. His brother, Nepal’s richest man and NC MP Binod Chaudhary, was also questioned on Thursday.

The land was transferred without government approval in 1986 to the Chaudharys' Champion Footwear which is defunct, but the assets are owned by CG Chandbagh Residency, which also runs a school on the land. The CIAA was investigating, but the CIB took over after an investigative report by Deepa Dahal in Ukaalo.  

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