Traveller Assist responds to baseless allegations and false reporting of Sangam Prasain at the Kathmandu Post

by Jonathan Bancroft

A recent article in the Kathmandu Post that they have comically labeled a ‘post investigation’ is not only full of complete lies, but it also shows the absolute incompetence and lack of experience of the journalist who wrote it, Mr. Sangam Prasain. His incompetence has been obvious throughout his correspondence with our company via calls, emails and WhatsApp messages. His lack of understanding of simple matters, and also the discriminatory way that he has approached his so-called investigation, has led us to believe since our conversations began with Mr. Prasain that he has a complete inability to ascertain the difference between fact and fiction.

The article he wrote has proven just that — and I suspect in the process he has completely misled Mr. Anup Kaphle who is the Editor in Chief, otherwise how is it possible that such a fictitious article could have been published in what is supposed to be a reputable newspaper.

While the content of the article is so absurd, that it really does not warrant a serious response, as the Managing Director of Traveller Assist, I am going to respond to each and every allegation, to not only set the record straight, but also to show the Kathmandu Post that they are being used, by not only the government, but also by the people behind the fraudulent companies who have already been named by Nepal’s own government investigation.

Traveller Assist requests a retraction and public apology from the Kathmandu Post

In addition, Traveller Assist intend to file a defamation law suit against not only the Kathmandu Post, but also against Mr. Sangam Prasain, for both libel and slander.

Let’s establish some facts:

  1. Traveller Assist has its Head Office in Dublin, Ireland, not Australia as the Post claims.
  2. Traveller Assist is not an insurer or an underwriter, so therefore we did not threaten to stop issuing travel insurance policies, as the Post claims. To clear the record, and this has been explained to Mr. Prasain on several occasions — Traveller Assist is acting on behalf of three insurance underwriters. We conducted the investigation on their behalf and we issued the ultimatum to the Tourism Ministry on their behalf. It is the Underwriters who will stop issuing insurance policies, under the insurance brands they underwrite, if the government do not take action against the fraudulent companies.
  3. In June 2018, Traveller Assist wrote a letter to the Tourism Ministry to inform them that we had conducted 12-month insurance fraud investigation in Nepal, and found a total of 18 companies to be defrauding millions of dollars from insurers. We informed them that our clients, who are insurance underwriters, were thinking of boycotting the country if the Tourism Ministry did not take action. A government led investigation committee conducted a 30 day investigation, and wrote a 700 page report that was delivered to the Ministry. The report recommended further investigations should be made against 17-companies. By the governments own admission, soon after those companies were named in the media, pressure was put on the Tourism Minister to drop the investigation and the charges.
  4. Danny Kaine did send an email to FCI Heli Charter, as he did to all of the helicopter charter companies, helicopter operators and hospitals in Nepal. The purpose of this was to inform them that for cases involving travellers who were insured by our clients, they must call us prior to sending a helicopter for approval. We had them sign an agreement to say that they understood this condition. To be clear, this was to establish a set of standard operating procedures as a fraud reduction measure. This was not to establish partnerships. As Mr. Prasain has mentioned FCI Heli Charter, it is also worth mentioning that their company and services have been completely blacklisted by Traveller Assist.
  5. There is a claim that Traveller Assist sent emails to providers in Nepal to ‘impose our services on them’ — this is completely false. We are an assistance company. We do not provide services to helicopter companies and hospitals, they provide services to us. This claim by the Kathmandu Post is not only false, it doesn’t even make any sense.
  6. The Kathmandu Post claims that Traveller Assist emailed several providers in Nepal to tell them that we represent a specific list of insurers and assistance providers. While this is true, the pretext in which the Kathmandu Post have delivered this information is again, not only false, but completely damaging to our brand and our integrity. Firstly, when that list was first sent to providers, we did have signed contracts in place with every single insurance brand on that list. In addition, there are three assistance companies listed. With two of them, we had signed agreements to act as their ground-agent in Nepal. With the third company, we had taken over a contract from them, and this was to inform the providers not to contact that assistance company anymore, and that they should contact us for those cases only. Again, this was explained to Mr. Prasain, three times. By voice, by email and via a WhatsApp message.
  7. The Kathmandu Post claims that our company used a fake news story in their newspaper. I don’t have a comment to this, other than to ask the question, why would we do that? Our company has been quoted in over 30 reputable media agencies around the world on subjects of travel safety, duty of care, disaster response and insurance fraud investigations. I have personally never seen the document that the Kathmandu Post are purporting to be real. Upon speaking to our team, they have said that the contents of the story are real, but it was not a story that appeared in the media, it is cut and pasted from a case study on our website.
  8. Sangam Prasain reported that Traveller Assist’s motive for our investigation is to try to get a bigger market share of the rescue insurance. Again, Traveller Assist is not an insurance company. We do not sell insurance policies, or underwrite insurance policies. The one thing that Mr. Prasain did print that is factual is this: “Our investigation has uncovered a multimillion dollar insurance fraud scam in Nepal… We just want to bring those people and companies to justice so that Nepal is a safer place for travellers and less risky for insurers.”
  9. Mr. Prasain reported that Danny Kaine, our company’s Head of Assistance, told the Ministry that Traveller Assist is working with the governments of the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US. While this is a slightly misleading way in which it has been written by Mr. Prasain, it is true that Traveller Assist has also sent our findings to the governments of these countries. These crimes were committed by Nepalese citizens and companies, across borders, against companies registered in each one of these countries. Let’s also not forget, these are not just financial crimes. Trekkers have died as a result of guides keeping them on the side of the mountain longer than they should have been there, until a helicopter was available from a company who paid commissions. Trekkers have also been made purposely sick. These are all criminal acts against citizens and companies of foreign countries.
  10. It is true, Traveller Assist did offer to help the Government of Nepal in setting up a joint assistance centre. By having one centre that coordinates all rescues and that all bills are submitted to, this would immediately stop the fraud. It would also facilitate faster rescues. The Government of Nepal had the same idea when they suggested setting up a police unit to handle all rescues. However, the Nepalese Police know nothing about working with insurance companies, and this would have created a major problem for the entire insurance and assistance industry. As Danny Kaine wrote in his letter to the Tourism Ministry: “Insurance is extremely complex… It’s not just about sending a helicopter from [point] A to B and then collecting the money. My fear is that people’s lives will be placed in jeopardy through unnecessary delays caused by lack of knowledge of the system.”
  11. Mr. Prasain has verbatim quoted words from an email that was purportedly sent from Danny Kaine to FCI Heli Charter that stated words to the effect of, ‘Traveller Assist is working with insurers who insure 80% of travellers to Nepal.’ This is completely false and we would like to see the email that was shown to Mr. Prasain by FCI Heli Charter. Our suspicion is that either Mr. Prasain has completely misunderstood and misquoted this email, or that the email was doctored to show Mr. Prasain a false document that he would print as part of his article.
  12. Irrelevant, but Mr. Prasain has decided to be picky about whether Traveller Assist has a full time office or a part time office in Nepal. To confirm, we send our staff to Kathmandu for the busy seasons, to coordinate helicopter flights and assist travellers as required. We are not the only company who do this. It’s a complete waste of manpower to have staff in Nepal in the off season as there are very few cases to assist with. Again, this was explained to Mr. Prasain several times.
  13. The Kathmandu Post has claimed that Nepal’s CIB are investigating Traveller Assist and Danny Kaine, although they have not given a reason why. Firstly, Danny Kaine has been acting under my orders, as Managing Director of Traveller Assist. Neither myself, Danny Kaine, or any of the other six staff who have been involved in this investigation have done any wrong. Under the direction of our clients, we have conducted a lengthy and thorough insurance fraud investigation. Not only have we proven that the fraud was, and is still happening. We have overwhelming evidence that shows only 10 people have orchestrated and control the entire fraud scam in Nepal. In addition, as part of our investigation, we have found that some of those people have very close ties to government and law enforcement officials. This is probably why and how the Tourism Minister was pressured into dropping the charges against the named companies. That is, until we issued a second ultimatum which has now made the Ministry reopen the investigation.

The smart people among us will understand that the Kathmandu Post article has been written by a journalist who not only doesn’t understand the complexity of the problem, but he has also managed to write an entire article based on quotes and ‘facts’ given by ‘unnamed’ local sources, all of who happen to own or work for one of the companies that have been named in the fraud investigation.

It is also very strange that a total of 19, well respected, qualified and experienced journalists who all work for major international news agencies, have all investigated and reported on this topic, and all have reported factually, without trying to ruin the reputation of the company who highlighted this multimillion dollar insurance fraud scam to the world.

For a full list of every article that has been published on the topic of insurance fraud in Nepal, in the order they were published, click here.