An American citizen has reached out to the Supreme Court of Nepal for justice. The foreign national claims that he has been swindled by a Nepali who stole money from his bank account. According to him, it was Prithvi Bahadur Shah, and based on his report, Shah was arrested on January 6, for alleged money laundering and fraud.
Stephen Farmer, who lives in northern California of the US, has accused Shah of illegally bringing USD 350,000 that he withdrew to Nepal. The money is currently kept in various banks, and Nepal’s central bank has withheld the transactions.
“We have filed a petition in the Supreme Court and Central Bureau of Investigation on his behalf demanding action to be taken to return his money,” informs Farmer’s lawyer Daksha Bahadur Chhetri.
Stephen Farmer’s father, James Farmer, was supposed to get USD 481 from a defunct company. A man named James Morgan contacted him claiming that he can return the money. Stephen’s account received a notification of a deposit of USD 481,000 instead of just USD 481. He hence contacted James Morgan after receiving the notification, but it turned out that the notification was fake.
But, James Morgan claimed that the transaction was a mistake; he took out USD 350,000 of it, as per the agent’s instructions, and deposited it into the Times Today Peace Holiday Environment Pvt account at Durbarmarg-based Kumari Bank.
After the amount was paid, the bank contacted Stephen Farmer. After that conversation, he figured that the previous deposit was fake. He requested the bank to cancel the transaction, but, by then, it was too late.
He was in regular contact with the bank, and the bank claimed he could get the money back. The American bank also tried to intercept the transaction while reaching out to Kumari Bank. But, the transaction was already done and got a stay order from the Nepal Rastra Bank.
The withheld amount
Prithvi Bahadur Shah and his colleagues who were involved in various companies had brought in NRs 40 million from the US to Nepal.
Some of the amounts he brought were taken out, but some were left in the accounts. After that, the Financial Crime Enforcement Network (FinCEN), an American agency that investigates financial laundering, sent a letter to Nepal to stop the payment. And, the Financial Information Unit (FIU) of Nepal Rastra Bank withheld the amount immediately.
The involved, Prithvi Bahadur Shah, and his group said they collected the money from tourists coming to Nepal from the US for their transportation, accommodation and health insurance that they transferred through their accounts while they also said they meant to invest it in Nepal.
He claimed that the NRB and other agencies withheld the funds of his company without any substantial reason. After the Banking and Financial Institutions Regulation Department of the NRB sent a letter to various banks and withheld the amount, on March 25, 2022, Shah wrote a plea to the then Finance Minister Janardan Sharma and requested him to initiate the release of the amount.
In response, Sharma directed secretary Madhu Marasini to send a letter to show the cause for the account freeze and even asked for clear information to release the account.
Meanwhile, Minister Sharma ordered an inquiry committee from the Council of Ministers and suspended NRB Governor Maha Prasad Adhikari for leaking sensitive information. But, it was later revealed that the money that was released was indeed smuggled into Nepal.
Prithvi Bahadur Shah’s defence
But, Prithvi Bahadur Shah maintained that it was brought in as collected from the tourists coming to Nepal. “The amount was sent to Nepal through an American company called Mission Holiday LCC to be used for the travellers visiting Nepal.” Shah also said the NRB has not provided any assistance to recover his money and instead filed a case against him.
According to NRB sources, Prithvi Bahadur Shah, his brother Bijay Bikram Shah, and Laxman Regmi, who is revealed as their colleague, are all involved in this transaction.
Since the transaction of about NRs 40 million has been deemed to be suspicious, it is likely that the result will be delayed too. Although complaints have been filed, the information collected shows more suspicious activities.
In most of the transactions, FinCEN has written to Nepal Rastra Bank to withhold and return the funds that have been laundered and smuggled. “The deposited amount is related to fraud, so there is a demand for the return of the amount from the respective country,” the NRB comments.
In some of the reports prepared by the NRB, it is mentioned that the amount was withheld based on the information received through the highly secret international information network while in some other parts, FinCEN has been quoted.
“I have not been able to use my property or resources for a long time, get commercial benefits and do any other transactions,” Farmer said in the petition, “Contrary to international banking laws and principles, violating my right to property without any legal basis and reason without returning my funds. I request the withheld amount be released immediately and ensure my right to property.”
This story was translated from the original Nepali version and edited for clarity and length.