Silver Heritage Group Faces Legal Dispute in Nepal
Silver Heritage Group (SVH), a Hong Kong boutique casino operator which is listed on the Sydney Stock Exchange, is facing a legal battle and government investigation after a local partner, Rajendra Bajgain, accused the company of using foreign workers. Silver Heritage terminated its contract with Bajgain, who took the company to court.
The dispute threatens two Nepal-based casinos, including one which opened only two weeks ago. Tiger Palace Casino resort in Bhairahawa had its grand opening to popular acclaim, but now faces an uncertain future.
The Tiger Palace Casino was designed to draw visitors from Uttar Pradesh, a heavily populated Indian state sitting across the India-Nepal border from Bhairahawa.
A second Silver Heritage casino project in Dhulabari, a city in the far eastern district of Jhapa, Nepal, faces an uncertain future. The Dhulabari casino was planned to cater to gamblers from nearby Kolkata and Sikkim.
Silver Heritage Casino Dispute
The dispute has been brewing for some time, though it came into the open recently. On February 22, Silver Heritage Limited Management Service, Kathmandu terminated its contract with Nepali partners, Rajendra Bajgain.
Mr. Bagjain had accused Silver Heritage Kathmandu of hiring illegal foreign workers. One of the advantages of the Tiger Palace 1 Casino was the local jobs it would create, so the hiring of foreign workers undercuts longstanding promises and breaks local laws.
In a press statement, Silver Heritage seemed to admit that Bagjain’s accusations were correct. The statement focused on the breach of faith between business partners, instead of the charges themselves.
The SVH statement read, “This unauthorised disclosure, in addition to various other breaches of the local partner’s consultancy agreement, has led to sanctions being imposed by the company [on Bajgain], including, but not limited to, the potential termination of his consultancy agreement.”
Rajendra Bajgain Court Filing
That was not satisfactory for Rajendra Bajgain. He sued Silver Heritage Group in a Kathmandu District Court. On March 5, the district court ordered Silver Heritage Group CEO Mike Bolsover to terminate its sanctions against Bagjain.
Silver Heritage since has appealed to the Patan High Court to vacate the decision of the Kathmandu District Court. That decision is forthcoming, though the details in the case seem murky.
22 Foreign Workers Accused
Rajendra Bagjain claimed that 22 foreign workers were working in the Tiger Palace Casino without a permit. Nepali immigration officials say they cannot confirm those charges. 17 of those accused left the country already and presumably could not be confirmed.
The Immigration Bureau launched an investigation by a 3-member panel, but the disappearance of the 17 accused hampered the investigation. The panel submitted a report to the district court, but said, “The government is yet to act on the issue as it is complicated….SVH has sent five representatives to Nepal. It could not be ascertained whether they are staff members who draw salaries here.”
Gratis Visa Program
The remaining 5 accused are high-ranking managers and executives at the Tiger Palace Casino. Each of them has “gratis visas”, which are given to executives and family members of companies which Rs100 million in Nepal. Because Silver Heritage Holdings invested Rs100 million in the casino, those workers might be considered legal.
Under the gratis visa program, a worker for such a company can stay for up to a year. Mike Bolsover and Silver Heritage Chairman David Green issued a joint press release that stated, “We are confident that we will find a solution to work with the Nepal government.”
How Nepali Tourist Visas Work
One high-level foreign official who worked in a casino operation in Nepal gave perspective on the dispute. Saying the process of getting a work permit in Nepal is “very complicated”, the official explained a likely scenario — or at least described the scenario he faced himself.
The official said, “When I first came to Nepal, I was granted a tourist visa. The process to obtain work permit takes almost three months. So, was I working illegally during the three-month period?”
Immigration Official’s Opinion
Krishna Sapkota, who works for Nepal’s Immigration Bureau, said the problem is in the current laws. Tourist visas for most foreigners last for 150 days. During that time, they can apply for work visas.
Sapkota said, “These types of problems cannot be resolved unless immigration rules are amended. We have proposed that foreigners be allowed to process their work permit from abroad or their home countries prior to arriving in Nepal, so that they can start working here from the day they land in the country. This is a practice followed by most of the countries.”