Until last month, Prithvi Bahadur Shah was no one for the public. But, by now, he holds the paramount attention among the people interested in Nepal’s political and economic affairs.
If you have not been following the recent developments, just do not worry. We have got you covered with this brief explainer.
Who is Prithvi Bahadur Shah?
A permanent resident of Darna-8 of Achham, Prithvi Bahadur Shah is a businessperson. For the past 16 years, he has been operating various businesses in the export/ import, real estate and cooperative sectors. A few of his businesses include Holi-Day & Travels, and Pay Safe Remittance.
What’s the controversy?
According to a report prepared by the Financial Information Unit (FIU) of Nepal Rastra Bank, Prithvi Bahadur Shah appears to have remitted Rs 90 million that he earned from fraud, crime, revenue leakage and criminal profits abroad via online means.
During the investigation, it was reportedly revealed that he has opened at least half a dozen companies and tried to transfer money from the United States by using the same details in all. The companies he is involved in are World Travels and Investment Pvt Ltd, World First Holiday Pvt Ltd, World Wide Remit Pvt Ltd, World Export and Import Pvt Ltd, and Times Today Peace Holiday Environment Pvt.
On December 22, 2020, it was first said that Shah’s World Travels and Investment Pvt Ltd brought in USD 35,900 in Nepal. However, the sender’s name (Katherine Greene) was revealed later, creating suspicions over the transaction. The central bank has found out of the Rs 400 million that Shah brought into Nepal, Rs 90 million was directly generated from crime. On March 22, 2021, using online means, he brought the money from Standard Chartered Bank of New York as a capital for investment here.
Following the immediate intervention of the NRB, the amount was frozen. Meanwhile, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) of the United States also sent a request to the national bank to return all the money, saying it was earned through criminal activities. They mentioned that Shah and his associates have transferred around Rs 90 million in 17 transactions from criminal activities.
In response, the NRB in an internal statement said that it had withheld funds “based on information obtained through a highly confidential international information network” from FinCEN.
It was also revealed that Shah was accused of the same and was arrested four years ago for trading in Indian rupees. Shah, however, maintained that he legitimately brought money while speaking at a press conference.
But, now, Shah reportedly submitted an application to the finance minister, requesting him to help him obtain back the money, sparking a fresh controversy.
What’s his connection with the finance minister (and the governor)?
The details of Prithvi Bahadur Shah’s connection with Finance Minister Janardan Sharma and (a lack of it with) Nepal Rastra Bank Governor Maha Prasad Adhikari are not known yet. However, the media have accused Finance Minister Sharma of trying to protect Shah from facing action for his alleged involvement in illegitimate transactions, hinting Prithvi Bahadur Shah has some connections with him.
In the same manner, NRB Governor Maha Prasad Adhikari is said to have taken action against Shah by freezing his accounts. According to several reports, the government was suspended as the finance minister did not want Adhikari to freeze the accounts.
Minister Sharma, however, says he does not personally know Prithvi Bahadur Shah. He says he just wanted to take stock of the issue after Shah’s emotional appeal.
So, how’s the investigation going on?
After his money was withheld, Prithvi Bahadur Shah wrote a letter to Finance Minister Janardan Sharma on March 25, 2022, requesting him to release the money. In response, Sharma directed the secretary to show cause for account freezing and unfreeze it at the earliest.
Then, Secretary Madhu Marasini had written to the NRB as per the minister’s instruction. When the controversy escalated, the government suspended Adhikari, halting the investigation process at the NRB.
In the meantime, the Nepal Police Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) also questioned the source of Shah’s assets, suspecting his involvement in criminal activities including revenue fraud, asset laundering, fraud and other activities.
On the other hand, Shah had also reached out to the Supreme Court demanding the central bank halt the ongoing investigation. A bench of justices Bishawambhar Prasads Shrestha and Kumar Chudal, however, did not give any order in his favour.
Moreover, the court did not validate the suspension of NRB Governor Maha Prasad Adhikari and issued an interim order to let him continue working.
If posts and comments on social media are anything to go by, the public apparently wants the central bank to continue the investigation against Prithvi Bahadur Shah and take action. Similarly, there are demands rife for the finance minister’s resignation.
Given the public support, it is highly likely that the NRB and the police continue the investigation against Shah. However, it is not sure yet if he will get the deserving punishment as he has already proven his connections with high-rank politicians.