Armed group threatens Indian joint venture bank in Nepal

June 9th, 2008 - 3:02 pm ICT by IANS  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, June 9 (IANS) A month after Nepal’s critical national election, the security situation has begun to deteriorate in the trouble-probe Terai plains in the south, with an Indian joint venture bank becoming the latest victim. Everest Bank Ltd (EBL), in which India’s Punjab National Bank (PNB) has 20 percent stake, closed operations for an hour Sunday at its branch in Janakpur city near the Indian border following threats on the telephone.

The caller, describing himself as a member of the underground Janatantrik Terai Mukti Morcha (JTMM), which has been branded a terrorist organisation by the US, demanded Nepali Rs.2 million ($31,000) from the bank, creating tension.

“Such calls have become frequent after the election,” said Homnath Gurung, assistant general manager of EBL. “Money changers and cooperatives say they have been receiving similar extortion calls. With so many gangs masquerading as the better known armed groups, there’s no way we can tell if it’s really a demand made by the JTMM or someone else masquerading as them.”

During the 10-year Maoist insurgency, there were frequent instances of gangs masquerading as Maoists and extorting money. At times, the extortionists included police and army personnel.

Janakpur, a pilgrim destination where devotes throng from both sides of the border to offer worship at its Janaki temple, has increasingly become a target of extortionists.

Though EBL also has branches in other Terai cities like Birgunj, Biratnagar, Nepalgunj and Dhangadi, Gurung said the threats had come to the Janakpur branch alone.

“Managers are under a lot of tension due to such calls,” he said. “Recently, one such threat resulted in a shooting incident.”

Two other banks, Nepal Bank Ltd and Nepal Bangladesh Bank Ltd, another joint venture, are also said to have received extortion calls.

EBL started its operations in 1994. It reported a profit of Rs.300 million in the last fiscal, up by nearly 27 percent.

Its non-performing assets were slashed to 0.8 percent, making it one of the best-performing commercial banks in Nepal.

Besides PNB, local Nepali partners hold 50 percent of the equity while the remaining 30 percent are owned by public shareholders.

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