Nepali Congress (NC) President Sher Bahadur Deuba has put pressure on Prime Minister (PM) Pushpa Kamal Dahal for transfer of Nepal Police officers who are preparing to again investigate two masterminds of the fake Bhutanese refugees scam Keshav Dulal and Sanu Bhandari, and record their statements.
Deuba met PM Dahal a few days back and put pressure on him to transfer Chief of the Kathmandu Valley Police Office (Metro) at Ranipokhari AIG Shyam Gyawali and Chief of the Kathmandu Valley Crime Investigation Office SSP Manoj KC at any cost, according to a top source.
Deuba’s wife and NC lawmaker Arzu Rana Deuba also met PM Dahal and expressed displeasure at again resuming investigation in the case. A few NC ministers close to Deuba also warned PM Dahal that the ruling coalition could gradually unravel if Deuba’s concerns were not addressed.
IGP Basanta Kunwar also reached Baluwatar some time back with a proposal to transfer AIG Gyawali.
The pressure has piled 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, will again be investigated and their statement will have to be recorded again if the process moves forward.
NC leaders have objected after the new complaints in the scam have been processed. They may be fearing that the series of investigations in the case may continue and additional NC leaders may be dragged into the case.
Some NC leaders claim that SSP KC has 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 is now trying 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 is 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 at the Kathmandu Valley Crime Investigation Office 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.
NC leaders are trying to remove AIG Gyawali from the Kathmandu Valley Police Office (Metro) at Ranipokhari fearing that he may again actively participate in investigation following lodging of new complaints.
NC leaders seem to fear that Dulal and Bhandari can implicate Khand and even other NC leaders if investigation were again started and their statements recorded.
They have, therefore, put pressure on PM Dahal to transfer AIG Shyam Gyawali and SSP Manoj KC. They, however, don’t want to transfer Chief of Kathmandu Police Dan Bahadur Karki.
“PM has resisted the pressure until now. But we can’t say what will happen in the future,” the top source added.
Home Minister Narayan Kaji Shrestha has also taken a stand that the police officers who played an important role in investigation of the fake Bhutanese refugees scam should not be transferred.
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.
Police officers say that transfer of such well-performing senior officers so soon would deflate the morale of the whole police force.