Editorial: Devouring democracy
No surprise that the richest man in Nepal, Binod Chaudhary, finds himself in the company of 15 other Nepalis whose illegally stashed wealth abroad has been exposed. The Nepali Congress parliamentarian and the head of the Chaudhary Group (CG) likes to boast of his adeptness at using loopholes in Nepali laws to expand his business empire abroad. The latest exposé by the Washington DC-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) identifies CG and Golcha Organization, two of Nepal’s biggest conglomerates, as among the companies that have set up shells in international tax havens, apparently to launder money.
Chaudhary has built companies in the British Virgin Islands under his and family members’ names—his wife Sarika Devi, and three sons, Nirvana, Varun, and Rahul. Likewise, those related to Golcha Organization—chairman Lokmanya Golchha, his two brothers Mahendra Kumar Golchha and Diwakar Golchha, their cousin Chandra Kumar Golchha and Diwakar’s son Hitesh Golchha—set up similar companies in the BVI. Among other prominent names flagged by the ICIJ report are Ajeya Raj Sumargi Parajuli, Arjun Prasad Sharma, and Sudhir Mittal, all of whom have parked wealth outside the country by breaking Nepali laws.
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Despite such repeated exposures of their wrongdoing—before this, most famously in the 2016 Panama Papers—nothing happens. These ultra-rich businesspersons buy their way out of any kind of legal trouble. In the past decade, in particular, the influence of money in politics and even in the judiciary is getting pronounced. Members of the traditionally marginalized communities were supposed to be elected under the PR quota in national and regional parliaments yet many such seats are bought off by powerful businessmen, who invariably also finance the election campaigns of big political parties.
As Gerard Ryle, director of ICIJ, puts it: “The offshore world exacerbates poverty. It leads to inequality… there doesn’t seem to be a purpose to this system except to enrich some people.” This visible inequality fuels anger and resentment, which in turn offers the perfect platform for the rise of authoritarians. Such shameless wealth inequality, if left unaddressed, could well doom the nascent Nepali democracy.
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