Kantipur Media Group has said that it is under pressure to remain silent and cover up the alleged crime of a person who is suspected to have illegally amassed his wealth and received political protection too.
The recent coverage of Ajeya Raj Sumargi on alleged money laundering by KMG media outlets, including The Kathmandu Post and Kantipur, is part of the larger coverage on suspicious financial transactions conducted through political protection, the KMG said in a statement on Tuesday.
“Sumargi is currently under the radar of the Department of Money Laundering Investigation and the Central Investigation Bureau of Nepal Police. These government bodies have termed wealth obtained by him illegal. The media outlets under the KMG had published news reports on Sumargi based on the report prepared by these government bodies,” says the statement.
Kantipur Media Group (KMG) has been practicing professional journalism for the last 25 years, putting the public interest at the centre. Lately we have been writing a series of news reports about activities of agents involved in financial misconduct through political protection. In this connection, Ajeya Raj Sumargi became the focus of our news stories for his suspicious financial transactions. Media outlets under KMG have launched investigation into his activities on the basis of these three factors:
- The formation of a financial empire, using wealth amassed through unknown sources, by a man from a middle-class financial background who has affiliation with a political group.
- The freezing of over Rs3 billion in two banks for the last three years as per the instruction of the Nepal Rastra Bank. The Nepal Rastra Bank had also written to the Department of Money Laundering Investigation to probe the sources of Rs8 billion he had channelled into the country from abroad.
- A report prepared jointly by the Department of Money Laundering Investigation and the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) of Nepal Police, which has labelled money transferred from abroad ‘illegal’. Our news stories are primarily based on the report.
It is our conviction that the ongoing practice of cleansing the dirtry money by first exporting ill-gotten wealth from Nepal to foreign lands and later remitting the same funds back to the country through ‘shell companies’ should come to an end. The government has deemed these transactions to be “illegal”. Now it is up to Sumargi to prove the government wrong by providing evidences. We strongly condemn his move to vent his spleen against the media writing news reports about his illegal transaction instead of producing the sources of his suspicious investment. We challenge him to substantiate each of the serious accusations he made against Kantipur Media Group on Monday in a move to divert the public attention from the main issue. Otherwise, Sumargi’s tendency such as lodging compliant of death threat and making slanderous accusations against the publications for writing news reports must be punished.
We would like elucidate the issue regarding the purchase of a plot of land (owned by Kailash Sirohiya and Rameshwor Thapa) in Tinkune, Kathmandu. As the land that was of no use to us, it was sold to Sumargi though the help of a CEO of a commercial bank. The land deal was wrapped up four years ago. But Sumargi has referred to that deal to tarnishthe image of KMG. Apart from the particular land deal, the publisher of Kantipur, Kailash Sirohiya, has not entered into any financial deal with Sumargi. Sirohiya has not met or contacted Sumargi ever since he visited our old Tinkune-based building during the earthquakes two and a half years back. Against this backdrop, all the charges he made against Sirohiya are baseless.
As far as the news reports are concerned, it is a brazen violation of the rule of law to delay action against Sumargi even after the government bodies have held that the billions of rupees brought by Sumargi as illegal and the study report has stated that their sources are suspicious. There seems to be strong pressure on Department of Money Laundering Investigation from power centres to not initiate action against him, and this situation should end. The power centre providing political patronage to Sumargi should also be brought to justice.
The entire country will bear the brunt of ‘money laundering’ if the illegal transfer of funds continues unabated. Nepal formed the Department of Money Laundering Investigation after Financial Action Taskforce (FATF), the international organisation to combat money laundering, repeatedly warned of putting Nepal on the black list. The country faces the danger of being blacklisted, if the Money Laundering Investigation Department fails to finalise the cases identical to those of Sumargi. If the country is blacklisted, many international banks will not accept the Letters of Credit (LC) issued by Nepali banks, complicating matters for those conducting foreign trade. Many donor agencies also cut off financial aid to countries blacklisted by the FATF. This will pose a serious threat to the country’s economy. We have, thus, been continuously writing news reports about such serious criminal activities.
The joint report by Money Laundering Investigation Department and CIB has underlined that Sumargi’s case has violated various laws including Money Laundering Prevention Act, Foreign Exchange Regulation Act and Foreign Investment Prevention Act. As per the recommendation made by the report, the government should conclude the investigation by appointing an investigation officer as per the provision in Money Laundering Prevention Act-2064 (Section 15). Also, Money Laundering Investigation Department, Nepal Rastra Bank and other concerned bodies should conduct independent investigations and initiate legal action.
During its 25 years of service, Kantipur Media Group has encountered people of corrupt and indecent nature. But we have never forgotten our responsibility of putting the public interest at the centre. We never wavered when we faced huge obstacles in the past. And this incident will not distract us either. We want to inform our readers that our investigations into issues of this kind will continue in the coming days as well.
Kantipur Media Group
2074, Magh 2 (Jan 16, 2018)