Evidence collected by the police and development of incidents in the fake Bhutanese refugees scam show that current Inspector General of Nepal Police Basanta Kunwar should also be investigated.
The investigation report submitted by the police to the District Government Attorney’s Office, Kathmandu does not mention about IGP Kunwar—probably as the institute cannot charge its sitting chief—but Setopati has acquired evidence that implicates IGP Kunwar in the scam and cries out for investigation against him by the government.
Kunwar seems to have been apathetic toward investigation in the case when he was chief of the Kathmandu Valley Crime Investigation Office, did all he could to save former home minister and Nepali Congress (NC) leader Bal Krishna Khand then and coordinated with the members of the racket through former home secretary Tek Narayan Pandey, and tried to save Khand even now as the IGP.
Khand, who became home minister on July 13, 2021, had transferred the then SSP Kunwar from the Nepal Police Headquarters Secretariat to the Kathmandu Valley Crime Investigation Office in Minbhawan on January 6, 2022. Kunwar remained there until July 1, 2022.
A complaint on behalf of 81 persons was registered at the office on June 1, 2022 saying that tens of millions were swindled from them on promise of sending them to America as fake Bhutanese refugees identifying Keshav Dulal and Tanka Gurung as the ringleaders. They claimed that the racket collected Rs 130 million from them and submitted many materials for evidence.
Gajendra Budhathoki and Ram Kumar Regmi from Dang—who had collected money from many in the district with promise of sending them to America as fake Bhutanese refugees and handed that over to the racket—had registered the complaint on behalf of 81 persons. The families of Budhathoki and Regmi had also paid the racket to send them to America.
The office showed apathy toward investigation even after registration of the complaint and sought an arrest warrant against Dulal and Gurung only 10 days later on June 11, 2022. The two were arrested a few days later but threatened the police saying they had paid everyone including the home minister for connivance in the scam.
The news of the duo’s arrest reached the then home minister Khand and the duo was duly released in a few hours by the then SSP Kunwar. The office did not even keep record of their arrest.
Kunwar, who was ranked 13th while being promoted to SSP, was promoted to DIG ranked top a few days later. He remained at the office until July 1 despite being recommended for DIG and seemed to be in contact with the masterminds of the scam during the period.
Setopati has acquired prints of the text messages that show that the then home secretary Tek Narayan Pandey coordinated between Dulal and Kunwar then.
“Sir, you can tell that Basanta sir will also get financial support,” reads one message sent by Dulal to Pandey on June 24, 2022. Pandey had replied “OK” to that.
The police have included the messages in the investigation report submitted to the District Government Attorney’s Office, Kathmandu. We have published photographs of those messages here in the story.
The exchanges clearly hint that Kunwar may have received financial benefits in the scam, and the fact that he soon released the two ringleaders of the racket without even keeping the record of their arrest raises suspicion that he may have received such financial benefits.
The developments leading to eventual arrest of all the accused including Khand himself also show how Kunwar had obstructed investigation in the case.
Janak Bhattarai, who replaced Kunwar at the office, also did not show interest in investigation despite the victims regularly making rounds of the office pointing that they have been swindled.
Manoj KC, who replaced Bhattarai on January 12, 2023, showed interest in the case after he assumed office and found out about the racket’s nexus with top politicians. He formed a small team and instructed to surveil the ringleaders of the racket, according to an officer who was posted at the office then.
KC cleverly chose a date for arresting those ringleaders having known that they were released within hours of arrest earlier. He chose the time of a sort of vacuum in the Nepal Police leadership to arrest them. The immediate past IGP Dheeraj Pratap Singh retired on March 24, 2023 and Kunwar was to assume office as the new IGP at 10 in the morning of March 26.
KC got Dulal, Gurung and Sanu Bhandari arrested just hours before Kunwar assumed office on March 26. He recorded statement of the three that day itself and handed them over to the Kathmandu Police Range for further investigation as required by protocol. KC also wrote a written opinion recommending that the Home Administration should also be investigated in the scam.
Kathmandu Police led by SSP Dan Bahadur Karki started recording statement of the three persons on March 27 where they claimed that they had paid former home minister Khand Rs 12.50 million.
Collection of statement was stopped after that as Bhandari started to implicate many high-profile persons. It was resumed only on April 7.
Many police officers claim that IGP Kunwar played a role in stopping recording of statement. They add that IGP Kunwar held discussion together with Khand and Kathmandu SSP Dan Bahadur Karki.
Khand reached former NC lawmaker Ang Tawa Sherpa, who also used to collect money promising to send people to America and had good relation with the racket, through his personal assistant Narendra KC to ensure that the arrested members of the racket did not drag Khand in the scam.
Sherpa seems to have thrice met the arrested masterminds in police custody as Khand’s emissary. The accused pointed to Sherpa that Khand had taken Rs 12.50 million from them and promised to not take Khand’s name in another statement if Khand were to return that amount.
Khand gave Rs 10 million to Sherpa through Narendra KC to return to the racket. But Sherpa kept Rs 7 million and gave only Rs 3 million to the elder brother of Sanu Bhandari, Raju Bhandari.
Sherpa has accepted all that in his initial statement with the police which has emerged as the strongest evidence against Khand. We have included a part of his initial statement here.
Sherpa, however, has denied that in his statement to the District Government Attorney’s Office claiming that he said so to the police under duress. But the police have also submitted video recording of Sherpa’s preliminary statement to to the District Government Attorney’s Office.
Sherpa gave Rs 3 million to Raju Bhandari on April 6 and met Dulal and Sanu Bhandari in police custody the same day probably to tell them that he had already paid Raju Bhandari.
Recording of statement only resumed the next day after a gap of 11 days and Sanu Bhandari duly claimed that he implicated Khand in rage and had not given money to Khand.
Many police officers involved in investigation claim that IGP Kunwar played a role in stopping recording of statement, arranging Sherpa’s meeting with the accused in police custody and creating an environment for truce between Khand and the ringleaders of the racket.
The scam may not have come to the fore at all had SSP KC not cleverly arrested the three accused on March 26, and AIG Shyam Gyawali not assumed office as chief of the Kathmandu Valley Police Office (Metro) at Ranipokhari on March 30.
The Metro Office oversees all three districts in the Valley and the Kathmandu Valley Crime Investigation Office. Gywali also has a good rapport with SSP at the Kathmandu Valley Crime Investigation Office Manoj KC who thoroughly briefed him about the scam.
Gywali, who joined the Nepal Police in the same batch as IGP Kunwar and was contender for the post of IGP until Kunwar was appointed on recommendation of NC, then took over control of the investigation process that eventually led to arrest of Khand without knowledge of IGP Kunwar.
A police officer claimed that Home Minister Narayan Kaji Shrestha had supported Gyawali to thoroughly investigate the case right from the beginning.
Gyawali himself had summoned former home secretary Pandey to his office at Rani Pokhari for questioning in presence of SSP KC to verify involvement of Khand. Gywalai and KC had also recorded preliminary statement of Sherpa at Ranipokhari that has emerged as the biggest evidence implicating Khand in the scam.