Prime Minister (PM) Pushpa Kamal Dahal transferred AIG Shyam Gyawali, who was involved in investigation of the fake Bhutanese refugees scam, taking a back-dated decision without informing even Home Minister Narayan Kaji Shrestha under pressure from Nepali Congress (NC) President Sher Bahadur Deuba and his wife Arzu Rana Deuba, it has been revealed.
AIG Gyawali, who led investigation of the scam as chief of the Kathmandu Valley Police Office (Metro) at Ranipokhari, was transferred citing the Cabinet decision taken on August 15.
But a senior officer at the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers told Setopati that the Cabinet meeting that day did not even casually discuss transfer of police officers.
"Discussion on transfer of police was not held in the Cabinet meeting on August 15. PM later asked IGP Basanta Kunwar and Chief Secretary Baikuntha Aryal to prepare proposal of transfer of police, and issued transfer letter taking a back-dated decision," the officer added.
Setopati had reported on August 17 that NC President Deuba and his wife were putting pressure on PM Dahal for transfer of Nepal Police officers who were preparing to again investigate two masterminds of the Keshav Dulal and Sanu Bhandari, and record their statements. The transfers were made on August 18 when Home Minister Shrestha was in Gorkha but the transfer letter cited the Cabinet decision taken on August 15. Shrestha knew of the transfers only after the transfers were made, according to a source close to Shrestha.
A few Cabinet members also confirmed that the Cabinet meeting on August 15 did not discuss transfer of AIGs.
A Baluwatar source confirmed that the Deuba couple had met PM Dahal at Baluwatar a few days before the transfers were made to put pressure for transfer of police officers involved in investigation of the scam fearing that even Arzu could be dragged in the case if Dulal and Bhandari were again investigated.
The source revealed that Arzu had pointed that she could be arrested any time during a long and emotional meeting of the Deuba couple with PM Dahal and the latter's daughter and personal secretary Ganga Dahal.
Arzu had emotionally blackmailed PM Dahal saying that she could no longer stay in Nepal, according to the source, even if her husband Deuba had to stay in Nepal due to his party responsibilities. Deuba threatened of ending the ruling coalition expressing unhappiness at lack of transfer of the police officers despite his repeated demands.
"The quartet had a long discussion that day. They discussed whether to remove Gyawali or Manoj KC (SC) or remove Home Minister Shrestha, or even ending the coalition. They then agreed to remove Gyawali and KC, and bring Deepak Thapa," the source close to PM Dahal told Setopati. "This government would have been rocked at that time only."
PM Dahal had summoned Defense Minister and NC Vice-president Purna Bahadur Khadka and Home Minister Shrestha the next day after the meeting with Deuba couple, and briefed them about the meeting.
Khadka agreed with PM Dahal about transfer of the police officers but Shrestha urged the latter to rethink about the transfers pointing that the transfer would deflate the morale of the whole police force.
The Deuba couple also met Shrestha after that to discuss about the scam and transfer of police officers. Arzu was also regularly contacting IGP Kunwar and putting pressure on him for the transfers, according to a police source.
PM Dahal was in a difficult position due to the threat of ending coalition on the one hand and refusal of Home Minister Shrestha on the other, according to the source close to Dahal. PM Dahal, therefore, took the transfer decision while Shrestha was not in Kathmandu and prepared and got the minute of the Cabinet meeting on August 15 tampered to include the decision of transfer of police officers.
Other AIGs were also transferred along with AIG Gyawali to make it seem that it was not just Gyawali's transfer. SSP Manoj KC was then transferred from the Kathmandu Valley Crime Investigation Office on August 21.
The Baluwatar source revealed that the relation between PM Dahal and Deuba again became cordial after transfers of Gyawali and KC and PM Dahal was no longer worried about unravelling of the coalition.
Deuba had piled pressure on Dahal after 18 new victims from Lamjung, Sunsari, Sindhupalchowk, Gorkha, Lalitpur, Kathmandu and other districts lodged three complaints in the scam accusing Dulal, Bhandari and Ram Sharan KC of fleecing Rs 18.50 million. The Kathmandu Valley Crime Investigation Office initiated necessary process in the complaints and sent them to the Kathmandu Police for additional investigation.
Dulal, Bhandari and KC, who are currently in custody, had to be investigated and their statement recorded again if the process moved forward.
Some NC leaders claimed that SSP KC had been going around looking for victims and inciting them to lodge complaints. SSP KC had originally moved the case forward arresting Dulal, Bhandari, Tanka Gurung and Sandesh Sharma.
Current IGP Kunwar was 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 at 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 the 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 the 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.
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 a 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 acquired prints of the text messages that show that the then home secretary Tek Narayan Pandey had coordinated between Dulal and Kunwar then.
“Sir, you can tell that Basanta sir will also get financial support,” read one message sent by Dulal to Pandey on June 24, 2022. Pandey had replied “OK” to that.
The police included the messages in the investigation report submitted to the District Government Attorney’s Office, Kathmandu. The exchanges clearly hinted 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 a record of their arrest raised suspicion that he may have received such financial benefits.
The developments leading to the eventual arrest of all the accused including Khand himself also showed 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 had 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 gave instructions 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 had been 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 statements 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.
NC leadership seems to have opted to remove SSP KC, who had arrested the kingpins in the scam taking such political risks, after he processed even the new complaints now.
There was also reason to remove AIG Gyawali from Kathmandu Valley Police Office (Metro) at Ranipokhari that has been formed to oversee all three districts in the Kathmandu Valley.
Kathmandu Police led by SSP Dan Bahadur Karki started recording statements of the three persons on March 27 where they claimed that they had paid former home minister Khand Rs 12.50 million.
Collection of statements was stopped after that as Bhandari started to implicate many high-profile persons. It was resumed only on April 7.
Many police officers claimed that IGP Kunwar played a role in stopping recording of statements. 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 relations with the racket, through his personal assistant Narendra KC to ensure that the arrested members of the racket did not drag Khand into the scam.
Sherpa seemed 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 had accepted all that in his initial statement with the police which emerged as the strongest evidence against Khand.
Sherpa, however, 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 also submitted a video recording of Sherpa’s preliminary statement 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 statements 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 the investigation claimed that IGP Kunwar played a role in stopping recording of statements, arranging Sherpa’s meeting with the accused in police custody and creating an environment for truce between Khand and the ringleaders of the racket.
AIG Gyawali took initiative to move the case forward after he 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. Gyawali also has a good rapport with SSP Manoj KC, who thoroughly briefed him about the scam.
Gyawali, who joined the Nepal Police in the same batch as IGP Kunwar and was a contender for the post of IGP until Kunwar was appointed on the recommendation of NC, then took over control of the investigation process that eventually led to the arrest of Khand without knowledge of IGP Kunwar.
Gyawali himself had summoned former home secretary Tek Narayan Pandey to his office at Rani Pokhari for questioning in the presence of SSP KC to verify involvement of Khand. Gyawali and KC had also recorded the preliminary statement of Sherpa at Ranipokhari that emerged as the biggest evidence implicating Khand in the scam.
Deuba got AIG Gyawali and SSP KC transferred fearing they may again actively participate in investigation following lodging of new complaints.
SSP Manoj KC was transferred to the Kathmandu Valley Crime Investigation Office only seven months back while AIG Shyam Gyawali took over as chief of the Kathmandu Valley Police Office (Metro) at Ranipokhari only four and a half months back.