Nepalis linked to Panama leak preferred British Virgin Islands

Kathmandu, May 10

Names of seven Nepalis linked to Panama Papers leak came to light after the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, early this morning, removed the veil of secrecy from the world’s rich and powerful who set up companies in offshore locations to hide assets, evade taxes or facilitate bribery, arms deals, financial fraud and even drug trafficking.

A trove of over 11 million files made public by the ICIJ shows that at least seven Nepalis were involved in setting up offshore entities in British Virgin Islands, a tax haven located in the Caribbean.

People engaged with these firms have been identified as Upendra Mahato, a non-resident Nepali based in Belarus and former president of the NRN Association, Arun Kumar Chaudhary, youngest brother of Forbes listed Nepali billionaire Binod Chaudhary, his wife Shila Chaudhary, and their two sons Survansh Kumar Chaudhary and Karan Kumar Chaudhary.

The Himalayan Times tried to contact Arun Chaudhary, but could not, whereas Mahato is not in the country.

Others who set up firms in British Virgin Islands have been identified as: Nawang Dolma and Uma Devi Singhania. The personal and professional background of these two individuals is not known.

What is also not known is whether individuals other than Mahato are NRNs, as only non-resident Nepalis are allowed to invest abroad.

“If they can’t prove themselves as NRNs, they will face government action because none of them has taken permission from the central bank to take funds abroad,” said a senior official of Nepal Rastra Bank on condition of anonymity.

It is mandatory for Nepalis to get NRB’s permission to channel funds abroad. Also, Nepal has banned overseas investment, which means Nepalis cannot set up firms abroad.

However, of the firms set up in British Virgin Islands, only two were in operation till the Panama Papers were leaked.

These two firms, Fix Union Holdings and Golden Cymbal International, which belong to Dolma, were established in September 2012 and February 2012, respectively. These two companies have engagements in Hong Kong.

All other firms with Nepali link had folded up by the time the documents were leaked. This includes a company owned by the Chaudhary family.

The company, established in June 2004, was struck off in October 2013.

As per the ICIJ, a company is ‘struck off when it fails to be in good standing, which happens when it fails to pay licence fees’. “In the offshore world this is the equivalent to closing an entity, although it can be reactivated at a later date.”

The status of companies owned by Mahato is the same. Mahato’s firms, Spartley Ventures and Pankur Finances, were set up in June 2008 and struck off in May 2011.

On the other hand, Singhania’s firm, Spring Falls Limited, set up in February 1998, was shut down in October 2010.

The leaked documents are referred to as Panama Papers because they belonged to Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca. The documents were leaked by a source simply known as ‘John Doe’.

Mailing address

KATHMANDU: The leaked documents show that at least three investors have used Nepali mailing addresses to set up offshore firms Huang Bin of China has used Ishwor Niwas, Thapathali, as mailing address.

Similarly, an investor by the name of The Bearer has used Jorpati-2, Kathmandu, as mailing address, while Damor Investments Limited, registered in Jersey, has used Saraswati Sadan, Thamel.