THE NEPAL CONTROVERSIES - PART 13
Updated: May 5, 2021
Dr. Richard Fuisz, the retired CIA operative, reached into his jacket pocket and produced a brand new Fujifilm X-Pro1 camera. “Here, Michael, this is for you. I want you to have it. Use it in your crazy project to help the people of Nepal. By God I know I can’t stop you. You are incorrigible, so I might as well support you in your mission,” the trained physician said. A few weeks’ prior, Dr. Fuisz had turned 76 years old, and I didn't get him a present, which made me feel more than a little awkward now that Dr. Fuisz forced me to accept such a generous gift. Over the years, my habitually generous friend and mentor had sent me all types of presents, all related to learning a certain set of skills. Intensive courses in Tibetan language, vintage typewriters, and other odd but strangely useful items found their way from Dr. Fuisz's Virginia home to me in Pittsburgh. Now we were sitting over dinner at Chaya Brasserie in Beverly Hills, with Dr. Fuisz sporting two of his many Kobold watches, one on each wrist. Pointing to a nylon bag on the chair next to him, the gregarious inventor said “there are all these lenses in here, including one that’s internally stabilized. That will help you take pictures while driving, in case it’s not safe for you to stop."
I protested and declared that I couldn’t possibly accept all of these gifts, but Dr. Fuisz would not take no for an answer. “Oh come on,” Dr. Fuisz said sternly, “don’t be silly, this is nothing. Here, take this stuff already. Take it. Michael, don’t get me angry now, you know I’ll just send it to your office if you don’t take it. Here, please!” Reluctantly, I reached for the camera and examined it carefully, still in disbelief. Richard continued: “This is one of the best cameras ever made, the top range of Fuji’s product line. The guy at the shop tried to explain it to me but it’s got so much technology jammed into it, I got lost. I’m sure you’ll figure it out. Plus, you’ll look like a tourist if you use this, nobody will suspect you of doing anything other than taking vacation pictures,” Dr. Fuisz added before laughing heartily. It was late December 2015, India’s blockade of Nepal was in its third month and with people in the Himalayas dying of hypothermia, the urgency of my mission to expose the blockade had grown exponentially. Back in Kathmandu, I already kept a large cache of cameras, but the quality of Richard Fuisz’s gifts surpassed that of any of my other photography equipment.
For years, Richard Fuisz and I had been close friends. Our relationship began when Dr. Fuisz started purchasing a large number of Kobold watches for himself, his sons and his friends. Based outside of Washington, D.C., Dr. Fuisz attended a number of Kobold events, as well as the premiere of James Gandolfini’s documentary Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq. At the time, I only knew Dr. Fuisz as a highly successful inventor whose discoveries in the field of time-delayed drug delivery had made him a large fortune. We shared a number of friends and acquaintances, including a former U.S. president, but it was our mutual admiration and support for U.S. military members and their families, that brought us closer together. Sitting next to Jim Gandolfini during the premiere of Alive Day Memories, which went on to receive critical acclaim, Dr. Fuisz had been visibly moved by the events depicted in the film. “Thank you, thank you so much, it was so powerful. I don’t know what else to say. Thank you for making this film and for inviting me,” a teary-eyed Dr. Fuisz humbly told my friend Jim.
At another event, I introduced Dr. Fuisz to Philippe Cousteau, the diver and environmentalist, with whom I had just unveiled a new Kobold watch. Dr. Fuisz not only purchased one of the new watches, but a few days later asked if he should support Earth Echo, Philippe Cousteau’s charity. Years later I learned that Dr. Fuisz donated tens of thousands of dollars to Earth Echo. When I informed him that I was concerned that Philippe Cousteau and his PR consultant were not honoring their part of the agreement, the charitable physician counseled me to just let it go. “He clearly has money problems, Michael, don’t bother with him. The other day he rang me up and wanted to meet. The only reason we met was for him to pick up another check,” Dr. Fuisz said. “He’s a good guy, but he’s inexperienced. So I help him from time to time. Don’t get worked up about the agreement, it’s not important. I’ll keep helping him out for now.” This was not the only occasion on which I witnessed Dr. Fuisz’s generosity and nonchalant manner.
One day, Dr. Fuisz declared that he had enough of Washington. He moved to Beverly Hills, California and installed himself in a mansion in one of the best parts of the affluent neighborhood. Not long after the move, someone extremely close to him walked off with a few hundred thousand dollars of Dr. Fuisz’s assets. “You see, people are like this, but why get upset. It’s just their nature. Life goes on. Let's order some ice cream,” Dr Fuisz said after telling me the story. When I remarked that if I were in the same position I would be extremely angry and feel betrayed, Dr. Fuisz just said “that doesn’t help anything, it’s counter-productive. Anyway, I just bought this car, it gives me so much joy, this thing, look at it, it’s a real beauty!” Dr. Fuisz turned around and smiled as he looked at his racing green Rolls Royce Corniche convertible, parked across busy Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood.
Richard Fuisz and I first became acquainted in early 2002. Despite our rapidly developing friendship, Dr. Fuisz was cryptic about his past, revealing only that he had served in the U.S. Navy, had been assigned to the White House for a while, and that at one time he made documentary films for the military. Dr Fuisz, however, took a sincere interest in my dealings and counseled me on a vast range of matters, from business to personal affairs. I soon discovered that Richard Fuisz wasn’t just a regular acquaintance, but a deeply loyal friend and steadfast supporter.
In late 2002, I was charged by the U.S. government with a felony, namely making false or fictitious statements to a U.S. federal officer. The truth of the matter was so unusual that the government clearly couldn’t make sense of it, instead leading to an indictment. Unimpressed with the charges leveled against me, and confident in the U.S. legal system, I ignored my lawyers’ advice and decided to fight the government in court. Unfortunately, a jury also couldn’t believe –or make sense of- the facts surrounding the case and found me guilty. Years later, a U.S. chief district judge, who had reviewed my case, declared the trial “a travesty of justice,” but not before Richard Fuisz vowed to support my efforts to not get deported from the U.S. With a federal felony conviction on my record, mandatory deportation proceedings were initiated against me. Aside from the actor James Gandolfini and a small handful of other close friends, Richard Fuisz was the only person willing to associate with me.
Dr. Fuisz threw his considerable influence behind the campaign to avert my deportation: He contacted top government officials, wrote numerous letters of support, and spent hours counseling me by phone and in private meetings. My business had taken a huge hit following the very public trial, which received considerable media attention in the United States (“German watchmaker breaches security at Pittsburgh Airport”) and in Germany. Yet between the two of them, Jim Gandolfini and Richard Fuisz ordered enough watches to keep my ailing company afloat. When I asked Dr. Fuisz how I could possibly return all the favors, my new friend just said “oh Michael, don’t worry about that now. One day, you might be in a position to help me, or maybe not. It’s not important, don’t worry about it.” While Dr. Fuisz was extremely laid back about a lot of things, years later I would learn about a number of completely different, highly fascinating facets of the kind physician’s life.
With his professional reputation on the verge of collapse, Anup Kaphle, the editor in chief of the Kathmandu Post, resolved to do what a journalist does best - he hastily wrote an article, in which he defended his newspaper’s reputation. To take such a measure became necessary following a sustained series of revelations of racketeering by the Kathmandu Post and its owner, Kailash Sirohiya. While no evidence exists that Anup Kaphle himself has asked for protection payments from victims of Sirohiya’s scam, an overwhelming amount of evidence exists showing that when he accepted the offer to become editor in chief of the Post, Anup Kaphle was well aware of his employer’s sordid reputation.
A senior government of Nepal official told me by telephone “we all know about the Kathmandu Post. They are mafia. But now we are seeing more and more journalists here acting the same way, because the Kathmandu Post showed them how to do it.” This official then agreed to repeat the statement to western journalists who have taken an interest in the corrupt methods of the Kathmandu Post and its parent company, Kantipur Media Group. The official laughed at the way Anup Kaphle chose to whitewash the Kathmandu Post’s criminal activities.
Titled The Kathmandu Post’s Next Chapter, the July 17th 2019 article details how the newspaper’s new editorial and ethical standards are designed to ensure that its readers will be presented the truth, irrespective of any outside influences. In Anup Kaphle words: we’ve attempted to reflect in our journalism our belief that our duty is to the truth, to the community and to our readers…we’re taking that commitment forward with a promise to our readers: at a time when trust in the news media continues to decline, at home and abroad, we will practice our journalism with dignity, with earnestness, and honesty.
In light of this very public commitment to mend the ways of the notoriously corrupt Kathmandu Post, a recent major omission by the newspaper is highly curious – especially so, because Anup Kaphle is very familiar with this particular topic, and because of the Post’s previous coverage of the matter: India’s 2015-16 economic blockade of Nepal.
In November 2015, Anup Kaphle was still working as a deputy editor of BuzzFeed News, when he co-authored a lengthy article detailing the brutal effects India’s blockade had on his native Nepal. Among other things, Anup Kaphle described how pharmacies and hospitals were running out of medical supplies. Anup Kaphle also addressed the covert nature of the blockade and drew some logical conclusions about the Indian cover-up.
In March 2004 I received a telephone call from Richard Fuisz. Expecting the usual banter about watches and topics, I was surprised to detect tenseness in my friend’s voice. “That fucking snitch, who the hell does she think she is,” Dr. Richard Fuisz yelled into the phone, "look her up. Google Susan Linauder. She’s all over CNN with this shit." Moments later, Dr. Fuisz forwarded me a link to a recent CNN story about Susan Lindauer, who had been arrested by the FBI for illegal spying activities on behalf of the Iraqi government. I couldn’t make sense of this at first, but then discovered that Lindauer asserted that Dr. Fuisz was her C.I.A. handler.
Surprised by this revelation, I began to wonder who my new friend really was – maybe they sent him to spy on me? I quietly wondered, reading the article. “My name is ruined. This is a fucking disaster. This lady is crazy,” Dr. Fuisz said, angrily. Until that telephone call, I was under the impression that Dr. Fuisz was simply a highly successful inventor with a predilection for mechanical watches. Faced with the revelation of his C.I.A. connection, I was slowly beginning to understand why Dr. Fuisz had talked to me about all manner of topics unrelated to watches.
During my time at Carnegie Mellon University, I had heard stories of the N.S.A. collecting all emails, messages and telephone calls in the United States and abroad. Nothing that gave me concern, but I assumed my calls were also tapped, especially after a number of royal family members from Middle Eastern countries began calling my company and later my personal cell phone. A Jordanian royal called with some regularity, and we often spoke for an hour or longer about watches and about Middle East politics. This was casual banter, but I nonetheless assumed that the calls were being monitored, due to the individual’s international prominence and his position in the Jordanian royal family. Dr Fuisz, I suddenly realized, had for many years been the C.I.A.’s man in Damascus. So the idea of him being sent to snoop me out seemed somewhat plausible.
Then it hit me! Maybe Richard tried to see if I might become an asset, the rascal, I thought as Dr. Fuisz continued with his monologue about Susan Lindauer. I didn’t dare ask any questions about the true nature of our interactions. Instead, I tried to wrap my mind around the results delivered by a preliminary Google search of “richard fuisz”. Maybe he thought if he helps to keep me in the U.S. I owe him or the C.I.A. a few favors.
Over the course of the next year, most of our interactions revolved around the latest developments in the Lindauer case. Richard Fuisz emailed links to new stories and his personal interpretation. As it turned out, the kind physician was involved in a large number of major scandals, including the Pan Am 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, the attacks on September 11th, 2001, and the case of Elizabeth Holmes and her blood testing company, Theranos. “You’re really like Forest Gump,” I told Richard over dinner at Boa Steakhouse in Beverly Hills, “your stories are unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. There you are, directly connected in all of these major cases. It’s amazing! We should make a movie about your life. Nobody would believe it, but it would be a great movie.”
In an effort to make Richard’s story public, I enlisted my dear friend Josh Dean to write a biography on the outed C.I.A. operative. Josh flew to Los Angeles, met Richard for dinner, and called me later that evening. “There’s no way I can write a book about him, he won’t go on the record about any of the stuff he’s done, I can’t just write a book based on some crazy woman’s allegations. Get him to open up to me and then maybe it’ll work, but right now there’s no chance,” Josh said, matter-of-factly. Jim Gandolfini agreed with Josh’ assessment. “You need to get this man to reveal his dark side to you, the C.I.A. doesn’t hire choir boys. Then you have a movie. Otherwise, it’s just not interesting to watch,” Jim said. For years I tried to pry Richard’s ironclad secrets open, but the only response I received was some variation of “that’s not something I can talk about.” Richard’s youngest son, Justin, was a little more forthcoming about his father's activities. “My dad’s the real deal. One time, I was sitting in his car while he’s pumping gas and the car phone rings. I pick up and on the other end of the line is Muammar Gaddafi asking for my dad,” Justin said. Richard denied this call ever happened, just like he denied everything else.
Instead of regaling me with stories of his many exploits, Richard took delight in schooling me in some of the tactics used by him during his active years. Most of this stuff was over my head, but Richard pressed on, undaunted by my incapacity to master the subject matter. For example, he explained to me on four separate occasions the significance of being taken at gunpoint into a bar in Syria where he met a Syrian intelligence official. Behind the official, in a distant corner of the bar, was a cage with a green parrot. Years later, Richard said, someone approached him in a café in Paris and asked him if he was, indeed, Richard Fuisz. When Richard answered in the affirmative, the stranger sat down opposite him and asked if he remembers the red parrot in this bar in Damascus. “The parrot isn’t red, it’s green!” Richard protested.
“What does that mean,” I asked, confused. “Oh Michael, you’re so fucking dumb, why did I ever think you could be useful one day,” Richard said, shaking his head. “The parrot,” Richard said loudly, a shock of impatience piercing through his otherwise calm demeanor, “the parrot wasn’t red, it was green. By getting me to confirm what color the fucking parrot was, the guy could establish my identity.” Still confused, I said “he could have just googled you!” Richard looked at me for a moment, then looked into the distance behind me and slowly breathed in. Then he looked at me again and quietly said “my God, where did they find you, how did you end up at Carnegie Mellon. I thought that’s a place that only accepts smart people. This is all in the 80s and 90s, Google didn’t exist yet for another twenty years!”
Over the course of several years, I was able to catch up enough to Richard in order to comprehend a number of topics that previously had not made sense to me. “One day, you might have to do something else besides watches, and this stuff will help you. At least they won’t think right away that you’re really as naïve as you really are. Jesus,” Richard said, smiling. I could tell that Richard had a strong desire to impart his lessons on me, but I always felt inadequate. Still, Richard's biting sarcasm was highly entertaining. Even better, Richard was always ready to extoll his advice on any issues I brought to his attention, and he volunteered to help on countless projects and initiatives.
In 2009, I decided to return to Nepal to climb Mount Everest. Poking fun at my terrible sense of directions, Richard sent me a full complement of Tibetan language lessons, including audio tapes, books and notecards. "In case you get lost and end up in Tibet. At least you'll be able to communicate," Richard laughed at his own practical joke. Fuisz Technologies also became a major sponsor of the 2009 and 2010 expeditions. Later, when I endeavored to write a book, Richard sent an assortment of vintage typewriters (“it’s all about the process, computers are so damn impersonal”) and lectured me about how to keep a book interesting. When a team of filmmakers advised me to find interesting Kobold weares to portray in a series of short video clips, Richard Fuisz was the second person I listed, right after Ranulph Fiennes – and Richard agreed to be part of the project. By this time, the Susan Lindauer story had faded from the public’s memory, but a long list of articles about Richard’s past as an intelligence operative could be found online. “I’m retired now, so it doesn’t really matter, go ahead and film me if you really insist,” Richard said in his trademark laid-back manner. Best of all, however, was Richard’s support and advice during the time of India's blockade of Nepal.
In September 2015, I arrived in Nepal at approximately the same time as the start of the economic blockade, the existence of which high-ranking representatives of the Indian government denied. The Indian ambassador in Kathmandu, Ranjit Rae, in a series of meetings with me, even disputed the use of the term blockade. The effects of the blockade were felt across Nepal, especially due to the fact that most people affected by the two earthquakes in April and May had not yet begun rebuilding their homes. The earthquakes were followed by the monsoon season, which caused additional suffering to the millions of displaced Nepalese. However, while the earthquakes and the monsoon could not break the collective spirit of the hardy Nepalese, India’s blockade effectively shattered it.
After Nepal’s Prime Minister K.P. Oli instructed me to make the blockade public, I flew to Bangkok to securely speak by phone with Richard and a number of other people, in order to determine an optimal strategy to accomplish Prime Minister Oli's goal. “Don’t get involved, that’s a messy situation. You don’t know what the Indians are capable of doing, Michael,” Richard said, “this is not your fight. I know you love Nepal, but just forget about this mission. I’m telling you!” While I appreciated Richard’s candor, I chose to ignore this particular part of the experienced intelligence operative’s advice. As a civilian, I could not understand how Richard's brain had been rewired by the Central Intelligence Agency. Richard was paid to do things for the government, I'm not paid, I'm just trying to help however I can, I thought to myself.
Months later, during our post-Christmas dinner at Chaya restaurant in Beverly Hills, Richard began playing with the Fujifilm camera. “Here’s how you turn on the video feature, and this is for manually taking pictures. But it’s best if you let the camera do the work, so keep it on auto,” he said, concentrating on the camera’s metal dials. “You want to make sure you document this blockade in as much detail as possible. You know, when I made films for the Navy, this is what we did…” Richard spoke for hours and extolled a great amount of advice. During the course of the blockade, our meetings increased in frequency and together we hammered out a plan to publicly embarrass the Indian government for its illegal and inhumane embargo.
After the blockade was lifted, Richard again counseled me to leave Nepal and just forget about the fire truck expedition. “The Indians will never let you do it, now that you caused them to lose face. Think about it, if the trucks get to Nepal, they will cause even more embarrassment. It’s like you’re a glutton for punishment. Why do you do this, just move on. Forget Nepal,” Richard scolded me. However, my goal now was to get the Indian government to acknowledge the blockade. Failing that outcome, the fire truck expedition would generate such intense media attention, that the whole world would find out how India’s myopic government, and its intelligence service, R&AW, had in cold blood caused the worst humanitarian crisis in Nepal’s history.
After the Kathmandu Post’s smear campaign began in December 2018, shortly before the fire trucks were tentatively scheduled to ship, Richard became increasingly vocal about his misgivings over my plans. “Fuck Nepal, you see what they’ve done to you, after all you did for them. Michael, seriously, you need to stop now. It’s never going to end otherwise. Go and do something with your talents that will make you rich. Forget about Nepal,” Richard said. Again I disagreed with my mentor.
“Richard, the basic fact is that they did this campaign because the Indian embassy pushed them to do it. The Kathmandu Post is their mouthpiece. Plus, there are a ton of people who really want the trucks to arrive, and we owe it to them to see this through. And once people outside Nepal see all the evidence that India really was behind the blockade, they’ll also understand why I couldn’t stop until this expedition has happened. This is now symbolic, it’s much bigger than just the fire trucks. Forget the fire trucks, they’re a means to an end. But I can’t forget Nepal.”
After listening to my explanation, Richard shot back: “Michael, you can’t ever go back there, it’s over. Forget it. Nepal is not safe for you. India isn’t safe for you either.” I told Richard that I would fight back against the Kathmandu Post’s allegations in due course, but that there were a number of things that would have to happen first.
Months later, my colleagues and I began the Roast the Post campaign, in order to establish a counter-narrative to the Kathmandu Post’s falsehoods and distortions. Moreover, we designed the campaign to inflict damage on the Kathmandu Post and its parent company by gradually unveiling a massive amount of first-hand evidence of Kantipur Media Group’s and the Kathmandu Post’s practice of racketeering. Finally, the campaign’s third goal was to embarrass the Indian government by detailing its direct involvement in the blockade, its machinations behind the scenes to sabotage the fire truck expedition, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s involvement in crimes against humanity.
The Roast the Post campaign quickly produced the desired results. Shocked by the onslaught of substantive allegations of criminal activity, the Kathmandu Post repeatedly denied any illegal dealings. “They’re in a panic,” a Kantipur insider told me. Then Anup Kaphle published his article about the new ways of his newspaper.
With respect to the allegations against the government of India, by early July, my team and I had received a number of warnings, including several death threats in writing. “You don’t know who you’re going up against, stop this now,” someone wrote. “You’re going to get killed,” someone else warned. Then, on three separate occasions, members of my team and I were followed and intimidated in public by people we had never met before. In one instance, we took photographs and witness statements from people who acknowledged the incident had occurred. I notified several journalists, including Josh Dean, and my attorneys. On one occasion, Jeni Dodd, a New York City attorney and the co-producer of the documentary film about the blockade, was on the phone to one of our other co-producers just as the intimidation took place. “If you get killed, I’ll write a story,” Josh Dean declared, and added “not dying is preferable.”
Rather than stop the campaign, we decided to make an even bigger effort and thus began contacting more journalists and activists, as well as federal law enforcement officials and foreign diplomats. We also stepped up our social media campaign against the Modi government. “If they do something to us, this will be so high-profile, that the whole world will know about it,” I told my team. I had long ago learned not to let paranoia creep into my thoughts, but to my surprise, nobody on the team expressed any fear or concern. Instead, they were highly courageous. Then something completely unforeseen occurred.
Early in the morning of July 29, 2019, a message from a friend in Kathmandu alerted me to a news story in Republica newspaper, one of the few outlets with journalistic integrity in Nepal's hopelessly corrupt media landscape. The article’s headline read: Blockade on Nepal was ‘foolish thing’: BJP leader. The BJP is the ruling political party of India, and the official a close confidante of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This was a major change in India’s stance vis-a-vis the blockade – a tremendous reversal. Stunned, I woke up in an instant and read the headline again. Then my heart skipped a beat and I began dancing a little jig in bed.
I checked the time and realized that it was too early to send Richard a message, so I instead typed a note to Malcolm McDowell. The legendary Hollywood actor had been instrumental in the campaign against the blockade - one of the few people I completely confided in about Prime Minister Oli's request to make the blockade public. Malcolm agreed to appear in a number of short videos designed to draw the attention of U.S. officials and other powerful influencers to the plight of the Nepalese people. In addition, Malcolm had voiced over a 150-minute-long feature film about the blockade. “Malcolm, we won!!! This is a huge deal. Thank you so much!” I wrote.
Throughout the day, congratulatory messages arrived in my inbox, including from representatives of three elder statesmen. One former president’s foreign policy advisor wrote “Wow. That’s really something. Good for you…we’re always happy to help, reach out anytime.” As the day progressed, my colleagues and I grew more and more excited. Then Richard Fuisz discovered the good news of the day. “Thank you so much for all your help, advice, scolding, prodding…everything, Richard. Having you on my side made this ordeal a whole lot more fun and much more bearable,” I wrote in response to his congratulatory message. “Proud of how you turned this around. Thank you for listing me. It is an honor,” Richard replied. Now is a good time to let the cat out of the bag on who helped strategize the response to the blockade, I thought, and threw the short video about Richard onto my company’s homepage.
“You won, stop now,” Richard wrote the next day, after I informed him of my plan to ship the fire trucks. Now that India had officially admitted to being behind the blockade, I decided to concentrate my team’s efforts on finally making the fire truck expedition a reality. We were still waiting to hear from the Nepal Tourism Board on how to proceed, but I wanted us to be as prepared as possible to move on short notice. Once NTB would give the necessary assurances that our MoU remained valid long enough to ship the vehicles, conduct the expedition and finish the documentary films, we'd organize the shipment. “Must double down now, ship trucks,” I quickly wrote to Richard.
At the time of this writing, in early August 2019, six days have passed since the Indian BJP official acknowledged his government’s role in the blockade against Nepal. This astonishing news has been covered extensively by Nepal’s media outlets. However, one newspaper has completely failed to mention this sensational development: The Kathmandu Post.
Roast the Post caused a considerable stir at the Kathmandu Post. Anup Kaphle resigned from his position at the paper and left Nepal. Less than a year later, the coronavirus pandemic gained speed. Dr. Fuisz consulted with the Government of Nepal and advised the family of Prime Minister Oli. Meanwhile, my colleagues and I started a social media campaign on Instagram and Facebook to alert Nepalis about the Indian government's subversion of their motherland's national sovereignty, including the assassination of Nepal's royal family in 2001. To date, over 36,000 followers keep up to date with the stories we post about. Please follow me on Instagram (@michael_kobold) and browse through the story highlights to gain more insight into India's government's actions inside Nepal.