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20 per cent local stake in Ncell needs to be probed

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KATHMANDU, JANUARY 9

The controversy surrounding share transactions of Ncell seems to have gotten murkier, with a new investigation finding that even the 20 per cent shares owned by Nepali investors involve shady deals and that the government needs to ‘open up the file on Ncell’s share transactions and dig into it thoroughly’.

An investigation by the Centre for Investigative Journalism-Nepal (CIJ-Nepal) and Finance Uncovered, a British journalism organisation, has found that a handful of Nepali investors have made fortunes buying and selling Ncell shares using funds which appear to have flowed covertly to them via tax havens from the Malaysian telecom giant, Axiata, and Sweden’s Telia.

Nepali beneficiaries from these deals appear to be leading businessman Upendra Mahato, his associate Niraj Govinda Shrestha, businesswoman Bhavana Singh Shrestha, her company Sunivera Capital Venture, her husband Satish Lal Acharya, and her relative Sujan Shrestha. Satish and Sujan are on the board of Ncell Nepal. Ncell’s local partners appear to have profited from their ownership, at various times since 2012, of a 20 per cent stake, which is reserved by law for domestic investors.

Transactions of this 20 per cent stake is so opaque it is not possible to see where hundreds of millions of dollars have ended up.

The CIJ-Nepal investigation finds that Axiata paid $90 million to a secretive offshore company with a link to Bhavana Singh Shrestha, months before her company Sunivera bought 20 per cent of Ncell’s shares and became Axiata’s partner. This 20 per cent stake may be worth well over US$300 million and has earned more than US$80 million in dividends since 2016, based on figures published by Axiata and Nepal’s central bank.


A version of this article appears in print on January 10, 2021 of The Himalayan Times.


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