Swiss bank 'unaware', others refuse to divulge details
OM ASTHA RAI
KATHMANDU, Feb 15: The Nepali people´s long-held assumption that late king Birendra, late queen Aishwarya and other royal family members -- massacred in 2001-- had stashed away a huge amount of money abroad still remains unfounded with four of the six central banks of foreign countries either professing ignorance or refusing to divulge details about any secret accounts held by them.
In response to queries by the Nepal Rashtra Bank (NRB), central banks of Switzerland and the UK have informed the central bank of Nepal that late king Birendra or any of his family members do no hold secret accounts at Swiss National Bank (SNB) and Bank of England.
Similarly, central banks of Hong Kong and Thailand have refused to divulge details citing existing monetary acts and policies. Central banks of India and Singapore have yet not responded to the NRB´s request.
The NRB had asked central banks of Switzerland, the UK, Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore and India to provide information, if any, about bank accounts held by late king Birendra or any of his family members on behalf of Office of the Nepal Trust. The trust has been tasked with furnishing details and looking after the properties owned by late king Birendra´s family.
"Although foreign banks have not shown accounts belonging to any member of late king Birendra´s family as of now, it is hard for us to believe them," says Shridhar Gautam, executive secretary of the trust. "We will continue with our efforts to dig out the royal money." As of now, the trust has discovered 6,244 ropanis of land belonging to the late royals.
What makes the trust believe that late king Birendra´s family must have stashed away a huge sum of money abroad?
"It is the income," explains Birendra Baniya, undersecretary at the trust. "In the last four years, since its inception, the trust has earned more than Rs 1.3 million only as annual incomes of properties leased out to private companies. If the trust has earned so much money in such a short period, you can imagine how much money the former monarch must have earned over the decades. Where has all this money gone, if not stashed away in foreign banks?"
In its letter to the NRB, the SNB, which is known for its strict policy of secrecy, has stated that the central bank of Switzerland is unaware of any account held by any of the family members of late king Birendra since it does not maintain accounts of private individuals and non-banking companies. The SNB has said that it maintains giro accounts only for banks, public authorities, foreign central and commercial banks as well as international organizations. The SNB, however, has forwarded the NRB´s queries to the Swiss Federal Department for Foreign Affairs (FDFA) for further investigation.
The Bank of England has stated that it has been unable to discover money supposedly stashed away by late king Birendra or any of his family members even after carrying out an extensive search of its records. However, the central bank of the UK has suggested that the NRB contact the British Bankers´ Association (BBA) for further investigation as the latter is more capable of tracking down accounts.
However, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (MA), which oversees monetary policies of the country, has referred to the Banking Ordinance (BO) -- the section 120 of which act is against sharing of information about account holders -- to turn down the NRB´s request. According to the NRB, the section 21 of the BO permits sharing of information with overseas authorities for supervisory purposes under certain circumstances. However, arguing that NRB´s request is not for supervisory purpose, the MA says "it is not in a position to assist".
Similarly, Bank of Thailand has also refused to divulge details by referring to the section 154 of Thailand´s Financial Institution Act.
The trust believes that the money supposedly hidden by the late monarch will be unearthed some day. "If details of properties owned by Ferdinand Marcos, the former dictator of the Philippines, are coming out years after he died, why can the same thing not happen in Nepal´s case, too?" argues Purushottam Poudel, joint secretary at the trust.