Businessman Deepak Malhotra claimed on Thursday that he did not bring the gold that was seized from the Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) in Kathmandu on Tuesday. He further added that he was never involved in illegal business and did not even think about that.
Organizing a press conference after the Nayapatrika Daily reported his involvement in the gold recovered from the TIA on Thursday he stated that he was ready to face all kinds of legal punishment if his involvement were proved.
The matter is under investigation and officers with the Department of Revenue Investigation (DRI) say who the owner of recovered gold is has yet to be known. "We have preliminary suspicions but cannot say anything until they are proved," a DRI source said.
But DRI and Nepal Police officers claim that Malhotra has been involved in gold smuggling for a long time. A government-formed probe committee had even taken Malhotra's name and demanded investigation on him, members of that committee have told Setopati. But he was not investigated and that report has not even been made public
The government had formed a probe committee on April 3, 2018 under the then Joint Secretary at the Home Ministry Ishwor Raj Paudel to investigate smuggling of 33 kilograms of gold and murder of mule Sanam Shakya. The probe committee included the then SSP Basanta Thapa and SP Sudip Pathak, Hut Raj Thapa of National Investigation Department and other government and police officers.
The committee submitted its report, that demanded investigation on Malhotra, to the then prime minister (PM) KP Sharma Oli in presence of the then home minister Ram Bahadur Thapa, home secretary Prem Rai and Nepal Police IGP Sarbendra Khanal.
Businessman Bimal Poddar, who has long been involved in hawala trading and gold smuggling, was arrested in course of investigation by the committee. Sources claim that Poddar was involved in gold smuggling and other business activities in partnership with Malhotra for a long time.
Poddar did not concede Malhotra's involvement in smuggling of 33 kilograms of gold but confirmed that Malhotra had smuggled gold over a long period. "It was not certain whether he tried to hide Malhotra's involvement in smuggling of 33 kilograms of gold or Malhotra was not involved in that," the officer stated. "But Poddar conceded that he had helped Malhotra in gold smuggling over a long time."
Poddar revealed in his statement that Malhotra was involved in the gold smuggling racket for a long time and he helped Malhotra especially in arranging money to buy gold abroad through hawala trade.
Poddar also claimed that Malhotra gave a bribe of Rs 10 million to the then tourism minister Sharat Singh Bhandari through a deal swapping land of Kathmandu and Mahottari in return for the 30-year lease agreement with the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal for the underground channel to the arrival lounge, arrival lounge, parking area and commercial buildings inside the TIA.
The committee had thought about investigating Malhotra and inviting him for statement concluding that he may have made gold smuggling better managed after getting lease of the important structures inside the TIA.
"But such was the political reach of Malhotra that it could have derailed even our probe committee," the member stated. "We, therefore, submitted the report, instead of extending the investigation longer, putting clear opinion that people including him need to be investigated. The report mentions that many persons including Malhotra need to be investigated."
Where the report currently is not known but a member of the committee guessed that it should be with the Home Ministry as many issues the committee recommended were related to the Home Ministry.
But neither the Oli government nor the subsequent governments implemented the committee's recommendation to investigate Malhotra.
A journalist asked Malhotra about his connection with Poddar even during his press conference on Thursday. "Bimal Poddar was my partner. But that was when we built the apartment at Kalikasthan together. We were together when that was built. But our partnership ended after that. What Bimal Poddar does and does not do is not a matter of concern for me. He has his business. I do my own business," Malhotra elaborated.
The 33 kilograms of smuggled gold was not recovered and the court did not punish anyone for smuggling, and punished only for murder of Sanam Shakya.
Poddar claimed that the police forcibly made him sign on a 'ready-made' statement and the Morang District Court eventually acquitted him in the case.