Police seize software of problematic cooperative linked with Home Minister Lamichhane

Published On: April 13, 2024 08:15 AM NPT By: Republica  | @RepublicaNepal

KATHMANDU, April 13: The police have initiated an investigation into alleged irregularities of Sahara Chitwan Multi-Purpose Cooperative, which is also linked with Home Minister Rabi Lamichhane. Following complaints from the depositors of the cooperative, the police, with assistance of the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) of Nepal Police, took control of the software of the company and started an investigation on Friday.

"We have started an investigation into Sahara Cooperative," said Shriram Bhandari, Information Officer of the District Police Office, Chitwan. "After receiving complaints from the depositors, we took control of the software and are examining the accounts."

Bhandari mentioned that the police are auditing the cooperative's accounts through an auditor to verify the software's accounting. He added that the facts will surface once the investigation of all accounts is concluded.

He further noted that the directors of Sahara Cooperative are currently evading the authorities. Chitwan police issued a 15-day notice in January, urging the victims to file complaints against the cooperative. According to the police, more than 500 complaints have been filed so far.

Depositors associated with the cooperative have filed complaints against 11 individuals, including the chief officer of Sahara Chitwan Multipurpose Cooperative Society Limited, the founder chairman, an executive committee member, and a manager. The cooperative's head office is located at Lions Chowk, Bharatpur Metropolitan City-3.

Gitendra Babu Rai (GB), the cooperative's chairman, has been absconding after embezzling Rs 850 million from the depositors. Details received by the District Police Office, Chitwan, indicate that the cooperative had disbursed loans of Rs 410 million without collateral to another organization associated with Rai.

It has been revealed that he transferred money to cooperatives in Pokhara and Kathmandu. He appears to have withdrawn Rs 17.3 million without collateral even in his own name.

Similarly, the GB Group of Companies received Rs 10.4 million, Nature Herb International Company received Rs 90.38 million, and Nature Best Company received Rs 50.31 million from the cooperative.

Earlier, the Gorkha Media Network affiliated with Rabi Lamichhane also received an unsecured loan of Rs 119.580 million from the cooperative.

Investigators anticipate to receive more of such details. According to the investigating officer, they have found refunds of checks that were cashed by Gorkha Media. Similarly, Ripping Wood Red State has taken a loan of Rs 128 million.

The cooperative has offices in Narayanghat, Tandi, and Parsa in Chitwan. After the funds were lost, the depositors formed a struggle committee in Chaitra 2079 BS. The coordinator of the committee, Shalikram Duwadi, stated that despite appealing to the ward chairman and the prime minister, the depositors have not been able to recover their money.

Duwadi mentioned that Sahara's outstanding loan of Rs 450 million is yet to be recovered. Of that, Rs 410 million has been taken by companies associated with GB Rai.

The struggle committee met with Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Rabi Lamichhane, who was elected an MP from Chitwan-2, and requested him to take initiatives to return their savings. Duwadi noted that while Lamichhane provided assurances, the money has not been recovered.

Under the leadership of the struggle committee, they have approached the Ward Office, Bharatpur Metropolitan City, District Administration Office, Chitwan, and Department of Cooperatives, and Ministry of Home Affairs multiple times.

The Department of Cooperatives sent a letter to the National Investigation Office on August 9, 2023, requesting an investigation. Additionally, the CIB sent a letter to Chitwan Police for investigation. Chitwan Police have reported receiving requests from the depositors stating that around Rs 440 million has been embezzled so far.

The Chitwan District Court ordered the arrest of 11 individuals, including GB Rai, on October 16, 2023. Rai, who previously worked at Gorkha Media Network, is currently on the run. As a result, the depositors' funds have not been returned.

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