Flight Connection Domestic alone received $22.4 million in payments from insurance companies
KATHMANDU, Aug 21: The government has barred chopper operator Manang Air from operating rescue flights in Gorkha, while Vayodha Hospital has been ordered to dismantle helipad at its premises that it had been using to fly tourists in need of medical treatment from different parts of the country.
These are some of the actions that the government took based on recommendations of a taskforce that it had formed to look into fake rescue scam amounting to millions of dollars.
The taskforce has recommended action against 13 other companies, including rescue operators, trekking agencies, hospitals, and chopper operators, that were found involved in the fake rescue racket. The taskforce had conducted detailed investigation against 27 companies in connection to the fake rescue racket.
Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation (MoCTCA) has sent the investigation report written to line agencies, including Ministry of Home Affairs, Department of Revenue Investigation, Ministry of Health, Nepal Medical Council, Nepal Rastra Bank, and Inland Revenue Investigation, among others, to take action against companies that were involved in the fake rescue scam.
According to an official at the tourism ministry, only two rescue flights have been operated in the past three months after the government started probing fake rescues. Companies were operating dozens of rescue flights on a daily basis during peak season.
Along with Vayodha hospital, the taskforce found Swacon International Hospital Pvt Ltd, Era Health Center Pvt Ltd and CIWEC Clinic Travel Medicine Center guilty. Similarly, the taskforce has recommended action against chopper operators Heli Everest Pvt Ltd, Manang Air and Air Dynasty Pvt Ltd after finding their involvement in the fake rescue of foreign tourists.
According to the report, Flight Connection Domestic Pvt Ltd, Easy Heli Charter Service, Alpine Rescue Pvt Ltd, Kailash Chartered & Rescue Pvt Ltd, Mountain Heli Chartered Service, Mountain Rescue Pvt Ltd, Himalayan Social Journey Trekking Pvt Ltd and Eagle Heli Service Charter Pvt Ltd have been found involved in the fake rescue scam.
The ministry had found trekking companies working in collusion with chopper companies and hospitals to conduct fake rescue operation and claim money from insurance companies.
The taskforce, which was led by Joint Secretary Ghanashyam Upadhaya, had investigated all data related to rescue operations conducted between January 1, 2015 and May 1, 2018. It found that Flight Connection Domestic Pvt Ltd alone received claim amount of US$ 22.4 million in the review period. Similarly, chopper companies were found charging $3,300 to as high as $43,000 per flight.
Fake rescue business flourished in Nepal in the past three-four years. A trekking guide told Republica that trekking companies sell packages at cheaper price and make money by conducting fake rescue operations. “Some guides were found adulterating food of trekkers, causing dysentery, just to organize rescue flights. Tour guide, trekking agencies, hospitals and chopper companies then share the spoils,” he said, requesting anonymity.
The investigation conducted by the ministry also showed that foreign trekkers were also receiving kickbacks from rescue operators. “Some foreign trekkers also been found claiming money from insurance companies by showing fake bills from Nepali service providers,” a source at the ministry told Republica.