Firing at Nepal casino ahead of legal battle


Kathmandu : Nepal’s casino industry, embroiled in an ownership tussle, has hit the headlines again with gunmen opening fire at one of them, ahead of a crucial court hearing.

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Two gunmen fired three rounds of blank cartridges on the premises of Casino Royale in Kathmandu Saturday night, adding one more incident to a string of disturbances that have rocked the popular casino since this year after two of its partners became involved in an ownership dispute.

Though no one was injured and the attackers fled soon after, the incident comes after the casino has seen two disputes that led to police intervention.

The casino industry of Nepal, one of the prime tourist attractions of the Himalayan nation, has been hitting the headlines regularly since two of the dominant partners, American entrepreneur Richard Doyle Tuttle and Indian Rakesh Wadhwa, fell out and began fighting for total control.

The battle has now reached the courts of Hong Kong, and the Hong Kong High Court is scheduled to hear the dispute Monday.

Tuttle, 79, had taken up the reins of Nepal’s first casino, Casino Nepal, in the 70s. Wadhwa, a chartered accountant from New Delhi, was once the American’s right hand man. The two were the driving force behind the Nepal Recreation Center (NRC), a joint venture that runs seven casinos in the capital and one in the sunny city of Pokhara, a popular tourist destination.

NRC was owned by Cannosa, a Hong Kong registered company in which Wadhwa had 12.5 percent shares, a Singapore-based NRI less than one percent and Tuttle the rest.

The casino industry employs over 9,000 employees and is one of the major royalty payers to the government of Nepal.

However, from being partners and buddies, the two men are now locked in a fierce dispute over the ownership of the chain. Wadhwa says he has bought the shares sold by Tuttle.

Tuttle, on the other hand, says he did not sell his shares but put them in a trust deed.

To make matters even more complicated, Cannosa, which held 80 percent of NRC shares, was dissolved in the 90s. After that, Wadhwa went to Hong Kong and registered a new company with the same name.

The Indian’s contention is that since he held shares in the old Cannosa and has bought out Tuttle’s shares, by Hong Kong laws, he can register a new Cannosa that will have the assets of the old one.

But Tuttle is fighting the claim in Hong Kong, saying that he did not sell his shares. He also says the new Cannosa cannot inherit the assets of the old one and since he and his family hold 20 percent shares in NRC, he heads the casino chain.

Till the court resolves the dispute, it is affecting the casinos in Nepal.

Since this year, there have been five confrontations between the two men. One caused the police to arrive at the spot and take both to the police station where they were warned not to create disturbances.

Besides the feud between the two entrepreneurs and the subsequent uncertainty, there have also been instances of union trouble with trade unions demanding that pending provident fund dues be cleared.