KATHMANDU: A self-proclaimed “inveterate gambler” from New Delhi who became the virtual king of Nepal’s casino industry but then saw his control eroding received a fresh setback with the republic’s top court turning down his petition to buy more time.
Rakesh Wadhwa, a chartered accountant whose Nepal Recreation Center once enjoyed monopoly over Nepal’s eight casinos, will have to now seek new devices to prevent Nepal’s government from scrapping his licence to run the casinos he controlled and auction the prime property belonging to the Center.
The new blow for the controversial businessman, who also advocates lifting the ban on smoking and business in tiger parts, comes after Nepal’s Supreme Court on Monday rejected the Center’s petition seeking a stay order on the government’s bid to cancel its licence to run casinos in Nepal.
A two-member bench headed by the Chief Justice, Mr Khilaraj Regmi and the judge, Mr Prakash Basti issued the order.
The blow came after Wadhwa had enjoyed a week’s reprieve when the court had halted the government and asked for a meeting with both the disputing parties.
While Wadhwa has departed from Kathmandu a long time ago after reports that he would be arrested for failing to pay the casino staff’s salaries and the royalties due to the government, that runs into millions of rupees, the Centre went to court this month, seeking a reprieve.
It had contended that the government should collect the royalty from the five-star hotels from whose premises the casinos operate. It also challenged the tourism and civil aviation ministry’s bid to cancel its licence, saying it was issued by the ministry of industry.
The late legal fight came after four of the eight casinos run by the Center slipped out of its control as Wadhwa remained preoccupied consolidating his position in Goa’s floating casino industry. At the last count, it was left with only four casinos in Nepal, including Casino Nepal, the oldest casino in South Asia.
Of these, Casino Anna is now being claimed by the five-star hotel from whose premises it operates, Hotel de l’Annapurna.
Wadhwa’s meteoric rise as Nepal’s casino king came after a bitter and sinister battle with his mentor and the original chief of the Centre, the American entrepreneur, Mr Richard D Tuttle, that also spilled over into a court in Hong Kong.
But after ousting Mr Tuttle, Wadhwa’s victory turned pyrrhic with other players more powerful than he, like the then Nepal king Gyanendra’s son-in-law Raj Bahadur Singh, seeking a slice of the pie.
The casinos have a long history of paying the ruling parties and providing jobs to their cadre to stay in their good books. However, it backfired after the Maoist government of Nepal fell.
The new ruling communist party, smarting at Wadhwa’s earlier neglect of it, went after his kingdom with vengeance, leading to frequent police raids.
A coup de grace for the casino industry came from a committee of MPs who branded the casino industry as a prime cause of growing crime in the capital and ordered the government to have them relocated outside Kathmandu.