THE NEPAL CONTROVERSIES - Part 9
Updated: Jul 25, 2019
Prithivi Pande is without equal in the lofty worlds of investment banking, art-collecting and politics. The self-made tycoon is the driving force behind a great number of Nepal's most successful ventures, and counts among his proudest moments the take-over of an investment bank, which he then rebranded Nepal Investment Bank Limited. Under Prithivi’s keen stewardship, NIBL quickly rose to become the country’s biggest investment bank. To judge the trained accountant purely on the merits of his highly refined business acumen, however, would be to severely underrate Prithivi Bahadur Pande.
Nepal’s most exquisite collection of fine timepieces is stored in the vaults of Nepal Investment Bank. This vast accumulation of handmade timekeepers includes some extremely rare and collectible pocket watches, chronographs, hand-skeletonized watches, as well as models with grand complications. “How the hell did you get all of this stuff,” I asked as Prithivi gleefully pulled out one beautiful watch after another. Over the course of almost 30 years of collecting watches, and more than 20 years as a luxury watch manufacturer, I had seen some of the world’s grandest collections. Prithivi's accumulation of watches, however, was outstanding.
In my experience, the collections of Adam Dell, the brother of computer tycoon Michael Dell, a Middle Eastern royal, a medical doctor in Palm Springs, and Hollywood actor Malcolm McDowell are most impressive, with millions of dollars’ worth of fine watches in each trove. Prithivi’s massive stash, however, rivaled all of these treasures in terms of its vast variety.
Most watch collectors focus on a specific subset of the seemingly endless spectrum of watchmaking. Malcolm McDowell loves vintage watches and owns one of the greatest vintage Rolex collections in the world – many of which are featured in James Dowling’s books on the brand. Adam Dell has a huge collection of military and sports watches. Prithivi Pande, however, has a collection that includes everything from pocket watches commissioned by various royals around the world, to comparably pedestrian sports models by IWC and Bell & Ross, to high-end pieces by Audemars Piguet, Patek Philippe and Vacheron & Constantin, to name but a few brands. Prithivi also invented the art-themed Tibetan Thangka watches that Kobold went on to produce - the first time in the history watchmaking that a watch contained a thangka painting.
Like in all previous instances since reaching the age of 16, my friendship with Prithivi was born out of a mutual passion for watches. With an overabundance of anecdotal evidence on my side, I firmly believe that watch collectors are, with only a few exceptions, more kind and gentle than normal people. Prithivi Pande is no exception to this rule, and over the course of time I learned that just as varied as his watch collection, so is the range of Prithivi’s genius. After having enjoyed the privilege of being educated by two Nobel Prize-winning economists, I believe the use of the term genius in relation to my friend Prithivi is genuinely warranted.
Over the course of eight years, as Prithivi and I became fast friends, I was afforded a front-row seat to the real-life drama that is Nepal’s daily routine. Whenever I visited Nepal, Prithivi routinely invited me to meet him in his beautifully appointed suite of offices in the bank's headquarters on Durbar Margh, Kathmandu’s charmingly dilapidated version of New York City’s 5th Avenue. Each day I visited Prithivi had the same familiar routine.
During the course of our friendly banter, Prithivi never stopped his incredibly fast-paced work – usually signing an endless stream of documents, often while answering phone calls on two or more phones simultaneously, and meeting a highly interesting procession of Nepal’s most powerful, entertaining and colorful characters. This menagerie of visitors included Prithivi’s countless Nepali and western friends, in town from far-flung places around the world and cross Nepal, Kathmandu-based senior diplomats, Nepalese and American artists, architects, photographers, chicken farm tycoons, mushroom farmers, hoteliers, Nepalese government officials, fixers, travel agents and, of course, the bank’s many VIP customers, shareholders, and board members.
To sit in the banker's office, surrounded by a revolving display of the finest works in what many people have described as Nepal’s most extensive art collection, was akin to being transplanted to a cross between the British Airways Concorde Room at JFK Airport and the film sets of House of Cards, India Jones, and Star Wars– on Christmas or on your birthday! That’s because during some of these visits, Prithivi would hand out the most fantastic presents. It took a lot of creativity for me to come up with ideas for suitable presents for the extremely generous Prithivi Pande.
One day, after Krishna Subedi, my trusted taxi driver and friend, discovered the prices of my watches, he overnight implemented a 100% rise in his daily rate, thus leaving me stranded. Prithivi offered the free of use of one of his many cars. I assumed I would be given the keys to one of the bank’s smaller vehicles, but instead Prithivi had a brand new Land Rover Defender 110 pulled up to the bank’s entrance. “I will also give you one of my drivers, this car is too big for you to drive,” my friend said with a tone of concern in his voice. “But I love driving, and this is literally my favorite SUV in the world, I really don’t want a driver,” I said. Prithivi narrowed his eyebrows, looked at me, then at the large, white Defender and said: “I know you love driving, Mike, but what will you do when you have to park it?”
Prithivi’s immense personal generosity is a trait that is not well-established in Nepal, where he is famous for walking into art galleries before the latest exhibits’ official openings and buying the entire collections displayed - for a steep discount. To watch Prithivi haggle for the last Nepali rupee, Thai baht or U.S. dollar is highly enjoyable. “OK, you gave me the friend price, now give me the best friend price. OK, now give me the family price. No, that’s still too much, I will only pay you this much. Yes, you can. Yes. You are the nicest sales person in all of Bangkok now please pack it up, but for this price.” Prithivi always won every negotiation, whether while standing in his office next to an artist showing off his latest creations, in an antiques store, or a watch boutique.
“Prithivi is too tight, we don’t make much money when he buys our art, that’s why we prefer selling to the Chinese,” a young artist told me in his private gallery in Boudha. “When he buys an entire collection at a gallery, he actually destroys the art prices, because the gallery owners give him such huge discounts,” the young man said. Yet Prithivi’s motivation behind amassing such a huge collection of art is borne out of his deeply-engrained sense of patriotism. “I don’t want the art to go abroad,” the energetic banker told me. “Nepali art is so special, it belongs here, we’ve already lost far too much to foreign collectors. One day, I will build a gallery to exhibit my collection.” Until this gallery became a reality a few years later in the recently-inaugurated Chaya Center, the art collection was displayed on the walls of the many NIBL branches across Nepal.
It was through the prism of Prithivi’s profound patriotism that I learned most of Nepal’s history, and the facts and circumstances underlying the nation’s contemporary goings on. That’s because visits to the NIBL chairman's office suite were anything but short. The almost daily invitations to “come over for lunch” had a uniquely permanent quality. Usually Prithivi called by 11 A.M. “Hey, Mike, where are you?” By 12 noon we’d sit and chat over countless cups of tea. Depending on the nature and importance of the visitors that day, we’d head to lunch between 12:30 and 1:30 P.M. By 2:30, Prithivi and I headed back to the office, at which point more tea was served (this one is really special, the Chinese delegation gave it as a present, here smell the box). Attended to by an army of assistants, chauffeurs, armed security men, and other staff, Prithivi rejoiced in the ritual of brewing the tea leaves himself.
Sometimes, as a result of his immense energy, Prithivi got so carried away in his explanation of the background of a particularly distressing or amusing development in Nepal’s current affairs, that the perpetually active NIBL chairman digressed onto several other topics. “Oh my goodness, I forgot the tea,” Prithivi would often say at the end of a protracted explanation. “Here, Mike, try…is it OK or should I add water? This one tastes really nice after the third time you brew it. The next cup will be better. This one is Nepali, it’s aroma is very special.” My friend did this with such cheerfulness, that I could never bring myself to tell him that regardless of the vintage, origin or length of time spent in hot water, all the tea tasted pretty much the same to my untrained palate.
In his infectious excitement, Prithivi also singlehandedly cured my lifelong allergy to raw apples. “How can you not eat these apples, they’re from Mustang,” he frowned, tilted his head forward, and pressed his lips firmly together after I declined his initial offer to take a wedge. Much like the countless gallery owners, salespeople at watch boutiques and other parties to negotiations with Prithivi, I, too, succumbed to his ironclad insistence and reluctantly obliged. While I never completely overcame the allergic reactions that follow my consumption of raw apples –itchy throat, swollen lips, sneezing– the symptoms nevertheless became far less severe over the course of eating hundreds of apples in Prithivi Pande’s office.
For years, I would spend up to six hours a day or longer with Prithivi, sometimes followed by more time together over dinner or at events. It goes without saying that I considered this an incredible privilege, especially in light of the fact that on most occasions, Prithivi tried to end all his other meetings as quickly as possible. Only a small handful of close, longtime personal friends would stick around the office. This included an especially likable older gentleman, who regaled me with countless stories of his impressive travels around the world, whenever we sat alone in the huge office. Over the course of several years, I got to know Prithivi Pande far better than anyone else I met in Nepal - and for that matter, better than most people I knew outside the small, enchanted country.
Life in this exclusive orbit afforded me a unique vantage point from which to learn about the ways of Nepal. It should therefore come as no surprise that most of my later observations and experiences in Nepal are heavily influenced by the schooling I received in Prithivi’s company. Already deeply enchanted with this mysterious and magical country before Prithivi and I became friends, my passion and commitment to aiding Nepal in whatever way I could, were greatly amplified as a result of our countless interactions.
“This country was like heaven before the insurgency,” Prithivi told me. “Kathmandu was an oasis, it was the nicest place on earth, with the best climate.” To illustrate this point, Prithivi took me to the home of Kiran Man Chitrakar, a fourth-generation photographer whose ancestors served as the official photographers of the Rana prime ministers and the Shah kings. “This is what Kathmandu used to look like,” Prithivi said proudly, “look, this is Durbar Margh. Over here is Singha Durbar, my ancestor’s palace is in this area but you can’t see it.” Prithivi hailed from a highly esteemed clan of warriors that included a fierce general who served as the right-hand man of Prithivi Narayan Shah, Nepal’s first king. The Pandes had also produced a prime minister.
Perhaps Prithivi Pande’s greatest quality is his ability to overcome adversity with an impenetrable optimism and unrivaled energy. Investment banking is a high-stakes, high-speed occupation that doesn’t often produce kind and generous people. Things in business do go wrong and tough decisions about loans and investments have to be made on a regular basis. The famously high profits in the banking sector come with considerable trade-offs in terms of stress. When politics are thrown into the equation, especially in a highly-corrupt Third World environment, the outlook worsens.
Every year or so, a team of high-ranking bankers from Frankfurt, Germany visited Prithivi’s bank and I was soon on familiar terms with these gentlemen. Germans are famous for being highly rational, and German bankers especially. Heaping praise on people is not a Teutonic quality. Yet one day, while spending some time alone with the Germans in Prithivi’s office, the pair opened up about their powerful Nepalese counterpart. “Your friend is really unique,” one of them said. “We don’t know anyone who is like him, he is such a good man. It’s really amazing, especially in this part of the world, where we know them all. We wish there were more people like him,” said the other banker, with a sense of wonder in his voice.
I made a promise to never reveal any of the confidential business dealings and other important affairs I witnessed being conducted in his presence, hence I am unable to give specific examples of Prithivi's incredible resilience in the face of adversity. However, there are two experiences that I will describe in as general a manner as possible, in order to preserve the nature of my agreement with my good friend, while giving sufficient insight that is relevant to both the fire truck expedition and the Kathmandu Post's smear campaign against me.
After India lifted its secret economic blockade of Nepal in mid-February 2016, I once again threw myself into the preparations for the successful implementation of the fire truck expedition. The blockade had a profound long-term effect on Nepal’s economy. This meant that bureaucrats and politicians were busy getting things back in order for a long time after the blockade ended, which made it difficult to get their attention for what was a relatively minor matter – to get the fire trucks into the country.
Observing first-hand the considerable challenges I encountered over the course of several months, Prithivi made a number of phone calls to help accelerate matters. Each time Prithivi put down his phone following a brief conversation with the people on the other end, whatever obstacle I had faced for weeks and months –securing a meeting with this official, obtaining a signature from such and such bureaucrat– magically disappeared, and the doors of Nepal’s power centers opened. In a crude sense, Prithivi was the best fixer in all of Nepal. His influence was so strong, that getting the fire trucks cleared sometimes only seemed like a trivial matter.
However, by the end of 2016, the fire truck project stalled yet again –despite Prithivi’s strong intervention. “If Prithivi can’t make this happen, then there is someone more powerful who doesn’t want it to happen,” Nepal’s ambassador in Washington, Dr. Arjun Karki, told me during a road trip across Pennsylvania. After the Ambassador and I became friends, I had introduced the two men at Nina’s restaurant in Kathmandu. “Let me see what I can do,” Arjun Karki said, before falling asleep in the front passenger seat of the Buick LaCrosse we were traveling in - ignoring both the picturesque scenery along Pennsylvania Turnpike, and the fact that the Buick had long ago exceeded speeds of 120 miles per hour. Nepalese are truly fearless, I thought, reminding myself of two Sherpas who had done the same thing at 160 miles per hour.
The legendary Nepali fearlessness has many other amusing manifestations. While in normal countries, bombs planted along a road scare off the general public, leaving the heavily protected disposal units to disarm the explosive devices in solitude, in Nepal such a dangerous matters attract a large audience, cheerfully bantering back and forth. The internationally accepted best practice to extinguish electrical fires, particularly ones involving large, high-voltage transformers, is to deploy sufficiently protected firemen using thick foam to douse the flames. Nepalese firemen, however, magically accomplish the same objective using only water, all while being clad in t-shirts, shorts and flip-flops. Similarly, if a bus traveling along Nepal’s mountainous roads is fully occupied, newly collected travelers simply climb onto the roof and hang on as the bus accelerates up and down steep hills and through tight curves.
Bahadur is the Nepali word for brave, and Prithivi Bahadur Pande, scion of a long line of military officers most certainly lives up to his middle name. I’ve witnessed Prithivi's cool-headedness on many occasions. So it was with considerable surprise when, after a three-month-long visit to see my family in America, I returned to Nepal to find Prithivi clearly distressed and nervous. “They’ve printed all this nonsense about me, it’s very bad press,” he said, holding a Nepali-language newspaper in his hand. “They do this all the time, you have to pay and they leave you alone. But this time it’s very severe and they’re continuing with their coverage,” he said. For several weeks, the negative press continued. It pained me greatly to see my usually cheerful friend become increasingly sad. The newspaper in question was a small, independent organization and evidently someone was paying substantial amounts of money to conduct a smear campaign against Prithivi and his bank.
Having experienced plenty of negative press coverage, including completely fabricated and distorted claims, I could on the one hand relate to Prithivi's situation, but after several such experiences I had grown completely immune to negative press, and I knew that Prithivi had gone through the same evolution. It thus seemed troubling that this latest onslaught of negative publicity caused such an adverse reaction in my friend. A member of Nepal’s former royal family and a distant relative of Prithivi’s wife, Pratima, explained the situation to me: “if it’s one article, no-one here pays attention. But if they keep writing and remain aggressive, it does have a negative effect. People pay attention here, and while they are pillars in our society, so much negative news can have an effect. That’s why they’re concerned.”
The lessons I drew during the negative campaign against Prithivi would later become useful in analyzing the information I received following the Kathmandu Post’s smear campaign against me. For Nepal’s largest English-language newspaper to print a single negative story about me on the front page, certainly was overkill and clearly financed by a powerful individual or organization, such as an embassy-based spy agency. Yet to the great surprise of many people in Nepal, including some of the country’s senior foreign policy officials, journalists and other people intimately familiar with the ways in which Nepali news outlets operate, the Kathmandu Post dedicated a whole series of front pages to negative stories about me. This, combined with other information, was sufficient circumstantial evidence to indicate that a well-funded effort was underway to destroy my credibility.
First, the Kathmandu Post’s reporters had only done a very cursory inquest into my dealings in Nepal. This fact was betrayed by their extensive use of hearsay. Second, contrary to the assertions of the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Anup Kaphle, I was contacted only hours before the first story went to print. Third, in their emails to me, the journalists mentioned only a small selection of the many allegations that later appeared in their initial story. Fourth, despite my written warning to Anup Kaphle and the chairman of Kantipur Media Group, Kailash Sirohiya, that the first article was laced with fabrications and distortions, the Kathmandu Post continued with a series of negative articles that again were based solely on hearsay. Finally, Kailash Sirohiya knew that I had expended all of my financial resources on a years-long effort to deliver the fire trucks and thus had no ability to pay him off in order to stop the bad publicity.
“We’re not in America,” I coolly told Chulie Davis, the head of a Nepal-based anti-human-trafficking charity, who, in the style of an English headmistress, had just finished an excruciatingly long and impassioned monologue, in which the matronly woman assailed me with complaints that several of her charges were not treated in the manner she envisioned by the management of Kobold Nepal. “These women haven’t been paid in months, and it’s your responsibility, Michael, I expect you to reimburse me. If this were America, I could sue you,” Chulie Davis said. The Englishwoman would later repeat her allegations, as well as my cocky response, in an interview with the Kathmandu Post.
On the surface, Chulie Davis’ anger was certainly understandable. In her version of events, her charges –women who had worked in seedy dance clubs and other entertainment facilities– had not been paid in months of vocational training at Kobold Nepal. Chulie Davis had to reimburse them and now looked to me, personally, to uphold an agreement she and I struck verbally. “Do you not have guilty conscience about all this, Michael,” she chided me. I did not. In fact, at this point, I had grown completely indifferent to anything the Englishwoman had to say. That is because the matter of Chulie Davis and her dealings with Kobold Nepal are more complicated than reported in the Kathmandu Post.
“I told you to deal with Roshan and Ashmin, not with me. I don’t deal with your women, they’re working for Kobold Nepal,” I said. “Yes, but the agreement was between you and me, Michael, that’s why I’m holding you accountable.” I failed to impress on the pushy woman that while I facilitated an introduction to the Nepalese owner of Kobold Nepal, I was not ever personally responsible for the women she seconded to be trained by Kobold Nepal’s expert leatherworkers. After Malcolm McDowell departed Nepal in April 2018, the company suddenly showed zero sales. I knew this was suspicious, because never before in its history did the company fail to have even a single month of zero sales, especially not during the peak tourist season.
By the time Chulie Davis cornered me in November 2018 and attempted to bulldoze me with her argument, Kobold Nepal’s manager had complained to me that the company continued to have zero sales, including throughout a second tourist season. In the past, if Kobold Nepal needed any salaries paid, I would support the company with cash injections and bank transfers. Now that it suddenly showed six straight months of zero sales, I decided to leave the company’s dealings firmly in the hands of its management, knowing that someone was again embezzling funds, while everyone else at the company looked the other way. “Look, I hate to tell you this in such a frank way, but what’s going on at Kobold Nepal is just typical chicken shit. I have been concentrating on the real reason I’m here, the fire truck expedition, and if you have a problem you need to take it up with Ashmin and Roshan. Leave me out of it,” I said. “Besides, you haven’t held up your part of the agreement.”
When I initially met Chulie Davis and her husband, Mark, she reported to me how Maiti Nepal’s founder, Anuradha Koirala, was famous for the mistreatment and abuse of the women hosted by Maiti Nepal. I told the couple that I had heard similar stories, including from some young Maiti Nepal women themselves. The three women were seconded to Kobold Nepal, whose leatherworking experts were hitherto unsuccessful in their attempts to teach them vocational skills. I furthermore complained to Chulie Davis that Anuradha Koirala had broken our verbal agreement –two months’ paid vocational training following which the women would return to Maiti Nepal in order to teach their colleagues and produce a series of low-end leather products, which Maiti Nepal would sell to finance the vocational training of more women. This agreement was witnessed by the former U.S. ambassador Nepal, Scott DeLisi, and his wife Leija, as well as Bishwo Khadka – the same individual who would later be quoted in one of the Kathmandu Post’s false assertions about me.
Chulie Davis' organization teaches vocational skills to women working in the sex industry, a common problem in impoverished Nepal, which sees thousands of women and girls, some as young as give years old, sold into sex slavery in such remote places as Syria, Iraq and Iran, but mostly across the border to India. The idea behind this particular charity is to teach these vulnerable women to be self-reliant. The women were making sanitary pads, Chulie Davis told me, and I suggested that perhaps they could progress to make basic leather accessories. These could be sold -to Chulie Davis' organization's supporters- to teach the women the entrepreneurial skills necessary to further their independence. Chulie Davis said the idea was great. Hence, I agreed to make an introduction to Rajni, Kobold Nepal’s owner, to train some of the women in her organization, and that this training would be paid. It is important to explain for readers not familiar with the ways of Nepal, that the prevailing custom in Nepal is for trainees to pay for the training they receive. It is highly unusual for trainees to receive any form of compensation. I also informed Chulie Davis that Kobold Nepal was an independently-run organization and that I would have to first persuade its owner to accept the provisional conditions of my offer.
Later, in order to ease the women under Chulie’s protection into the program, Kobold Nepal’s best leatherworkers traveled the not inconsiderable distance from Kobold Nepal’s offices to Chulie Davis’s organization, where they trained the young women on-site. In addition, I introduced Chulie Davis and Scott DeLisi via email and informed Scott that I had visited the organization and gleaned a very favorable impression. As a result, Chulie Davis’ organization received a considerable boost in financial support, as well as free vocational training.
After the first group of women was trained, Kobold Nepal hired them. However, despite all this support, Chulie Davis breached her part of our verbal agreement, which was limited to one element: the subsequent sale of basic leather products, such as key chains, to her organization’s supporters. Like in the case with Maiti Nepal, this was intended to generate revenue to finance the training of other women. That Chulie Davis refused to promote the leather products made by her chrges was brought to my attention by one of Kobold Nepal’s managers. Here we go again, I thought, remembering the same situation with the Maiti Nepal girls.
I explained all this, but Chulie Davis was not having any of it. “Michael, I don’t have any supporters who can afford your products,” Chulie told me when I asked her why she refused to honor her side of the agreement. “But you haven’t even tried to sell them. If you put a picture in an email of a key chain with your logo on it and a short video of the women making it, I’m sure you’ll generate sales. Anyone can afford a leather key chain.”
After having had the exact same bad experience with Maiti Nepal, and due to an enormous workload related to the simultaneous efforts of implementing the fire truck expedition and documenting the dysfunction of Nepal’s firefighting services, I had taken a leave of absence from supporting Kobold Nepal. I informed Chulie of this decision and repeatedly asked her, both verbally and in writing, to directly deal with Kobold Nepal’s management. However, Chulie Davis refused to accept this answer and instead asked me to personally reimburse her for salaries owed to the young women for the training they had received.
What Chulie Davis omitted to mention in her interview, is the important fact that her organization received –and continues to receive- considerable financial support from the Soarway Foundation. This fact alone does, of course, not give anyone the right –much less me, the charity’s founder– to break a mutual agreement unrelated to the benefits received from Soarway. However, in light of the fact that Kobold Nepal paid for the training of the first set of women, as well as the salaries of the training staff, the raw materials (leather, glue, thread, etc.) and the transportation, I was adamant about my position. “You need to at least try to sell key chains, Chulie. If I see you making an effort, then I’ll reimburse you.” As expected, no such effort was subsequently undertaken.
This type of dispute is not uncommon in business. Agreements are made and broken all the time, regardless of whether they’re verbal, informal written agreements, or legal contracts. Armies of attorneys finance their existence by going to battle for the various disputing parties, and arbiters try to settle the more straightforward disputes. In this particular case, this disputed amount is equal to roughly $800, a fraction of the funds Soarway has provided Chulie Davis’ organization to date. Yet rather showing her gratitude for the support her organization received from Kobold Nepal’s staff and management, and moreover for the introduction to the Soarway Foundation, Chulie Davis gleefully told a one-sided story to a newspaper writer keenly looking for more dirt on a high-profile mark.
That a minor disagreement such as the one raised by Chulie Davis would be front-page news in the Kathmandu Post, is not a reflection of the lack of other business disputes. Instead, it is an indication of the Kathmandu Post’s editor-in-chief’s willingness to use even the pettiest matters in his effort to feed his newspaper’s smear campaign against me. You should have tried to sell those key chains, I chuckled to myself after I read Chulie Davis’ quote in the paper. The unfortunate reality in Nepal is that most NGOs prefer to wait for handouts, rather than taking the opportunity to generate money. Chulie Davis' organization is emblematic of this widespread problem.
In June 2019, after five months of careful investigative work, my team of colleagues and I sifted through an impressive amount of evidence that supports the assertion that Kantipur Media Group is Nepal’s most successful racketeering operation since the days of a similar scheme used by Nepal’s Maoists. After the research phase produced damning witness testimony, including from current and former Kantipur employees, we began working on a series of articles, including this one, to expose Kantipur’s organized criminal dealings, its suspiciously close ties to the Indian embassy in Kathmandu and to India’s ruling political party, the BJP.
After the first week of successive articles, a number of people contacted us from Nepal, Europe and the United States with their own stories of Kantipur Media Group’s protection payment racket. “I worked at Kantipur for a year and a half, then I switched over to Setopati and now I live in America,” a Nepalese expatriate told me by phone, “I saw first-hand how KMG works. They do everything you say in your articles, you really exposed them. I was part of their game. I witnessed it first-hand,” this gentleman said. Asked to confirm this assertion in writing, the gentleman complied with my request. When I asked him if he would repeat these assertions to an American journalist at the New York Times, this man again agreed. Someone with a media organization in Nepal stated that they would only confirm Kantipur’s illegal machinations on the condition of deep background (“Shirohiya will send his goos to ransack my company’s office, that is how he does things”).
Soon, well-wishers began to send private messages, called or posted comments beneath my daily social media updates in the Roast the Post campaign. "Roast 'em, Michael! Fight fire with fire," an American military officer wrote, and continued "and maybe they will let you bring those much needed [fire] trucks." Roast the Post is exactly that: a longterm campaign to fight fire with fire. "They're already sorry they did this to you," a Kantipur insider said by telephone from Kathmandu. "Just forget about what happened in Nepal," a dear personal friend wrote. However, the Roast the Post campaign has only just begun. Still, the outpouring of support has been encouraging.
A top executive of Nepal Airlines Corporation sent several messages stating his strong support after reading about my incomplete investigation into outside efforts to undermine NAC’s economic viability. A cousin of the ex-king of Nepal and Nepalese Army officer, after reading the articles, also sent messages of support, including one in which he wrote: “Army is there to make you disappear. We’d never let you get arrested.” Members of Nepal’s foreign policy community also signaled their support. Yet of all the many positive messages my colleagues and I received, one was particularly touching. A close relative of Prime Minister K.P. Oli wrote a long string of messages: “you are so precise…absolutely amazing, man…you did better than any other foreigner,” in terms of getting Nepal and its madness right.
After reading a number of detailed warnings and death threats against me, including in the comments section of my social media accounts, a member of one of Nepal’s ancient ruling families called from Doha to inquire into my well-being. After confirming that I felt perfectly safe and was in good spirits (“I’m on an island, the Indians don’t know how to swim”) this person followed up with a written note. “Talking to somebody very very powerful right now about you…they said nobody is gonna even touch you.” My personal safety, however, is not something I worry about too much.
The only major precaution I have taken in the last six months, since leaving Nepal, is to secure the information trove my colleagues and I have acquired over the years by shipping hard drives containing back-ups to a number of trusted individuals and news organizations. As for my personal safety, a small team of supporters has successfully arranged a seemingly endless number of apartments for me to move into on a weekly or bi-monthly basis. Don’t have any routines, my tactical driving instructor taught me when I was 16. That lessons stuck with me and is part of my daily existence.
“What’s next, where do you go from here,” a friend recently asked. “That’s easy,” I said, “the fire truck expedition of course!” Sounding surprised, my friend asked if I was crazy: “After all they did to you, Jesus. Forget Nepal!” I couldn’t disagree more. Helping Nepal become a better place is now more critical than ever before. Nepal has a huge young population and millions of them have been living abroad and want to return to their beloved country. They and the rest of the Nepalese deserve a Nepal that works. A Nepal in which there are no mafia bosses who extort protection payments. A Nepal where fire trucks arrive in 5 minutes or less (with water inside of them and pumps that work!). A Nepal where the best person qualified for a job gets that job - as opposed to the current practice of giving the position to a completely unqualified person with the right political connections.
Ironically, not only has the Kathmandu Post's smear campaign begun to backfire in a major way, but also thanks to the unprecedented amount of publicity, the fire truck expedition has become far more than just a fun road trip. The project has taken on symbolic meaning in the spirit of if we can get the fire trucks into Nepal, we can achieve anything we set out to accomplish! Bottom line: the fire truck expedition always was a great idea, and today it’s an even greater idea - thanks in no small measure to the Kathmandu Post.
So where are the fire trucks now, why have they still not arrived in Nepal, and is anything the Kathmandu Post wrote with regards to the fire trucks factual? Has anything good come out of the intense media firestorm? Click on the link below for Part 10 of The Nepal Controversies.