By Ram Khatry, Sydney
14 January 2017
A young Nepali woman who nearly died while receiving treatment at the Royal Melbourne Hospital in 2014 claims her husband gobbled up much of the estimated $180,000 Nepali Australians donated to save her life. The fund was raised after a social media appeal for help went viral and kind-hearted members of the diaspora began chipping in overnight.
The response was so immediate that nearly one hundred thousand dollars was raised in the first two days alone.
But Shristy Khanal says her husband Dwijesh Koirala Sahi began spending the money on himself when she was still in coma fighting for her life. The money that Nepali Australians contributed towards her medical expenses was actually being sent to his parents in the western Nepal town of Bhairahawa, southasia.com.au was told, while she remained in intensive care unit.
Ms Khanal and her husband arrived in Australia on 22 July 2014 – the former as a student of Master of Information Technology while her partner was on dependent visa. A month later, she developed serious kidney issues. She already had had a kidney transplant in October 2010 but had fully recovered. When her condition became acute, she was taken to Footscray Hospital and then transferred to Royal Melbourne because the former determined that Ms Khanal’s case was too serious to be treated at its facility.
She had to remain in the hospital for an extended period of time – admitted on 28 August 2014 and released on October 22. In the mean time, her father arrived from Nepal with whom she would later return to Nepal after her release from the hospital.
According to the now 27 year old Kathmandu woman, doctors at the hospital had given her a frightening “5% chance of survival”. But she survived, thanks to the outpouring of support and prayers from Nepalis across the world, specially those in Australia.
She was only an international student with few dollars left in the bank and there she was lying on the hospital bed with brain hemorrhage and a failing kidney. A disease that would require tens of thousands to treat. A nurse named Shobhana Thapa, a new graduate at the hospital, felt for Ms Khanal and began reaching out to Melbourne’s Nepali community.
Soon, community leaders came to know about “a Nepali girl” who was fighting for her life at the hospital upon which full force of the social media was unleashed. Melbournians like Deepa Rai Nepali, Raju Shakya and Gautam Lamichhane became closely involved in the fund-raising campaign.
The southasia.com.au has been in contact with the victim since September 2016. Ever since, at least half a dozen community leaders from Victoria’s Nepali diaspora were consulted. It became apparent during investigation that Melbourne’s community leaders felt totally betrayed by the husband of the former international student.
According to Shristy Khanal, her family had to spend about NRs 5 million in India out of which around 1.8 million came from her husband in Melbourne, NRs 1.2 milllion from her father’s office and the rest from various other sources. “My father is still in debt due to my illness,” she said.
The first thing Dwijesh Koirala and Shristy Khanal did once they arrived in Australia was to open a joint account with the Commonwealth Bank. After all, they were a newly-married couple who had vowed to look out for each other for the rest of their lives.
They cash-deposited $2037.02 straightaway. They had the money between them, given by their anxious parents as they left Nepal to seek fortune in a faraway land. By August 22, a month on in Australia, their joint account had dwindled to just $40.36.
However, very soon, the overwhelming response from the diaspora would change how that unhealthy account looked. As local Nepali Australians began sharing the campaign on Facebook, help was not far.
The 163 pages of bank statements that southasia.com.au has received show community’s response in black and white. The very first deposit was made by one Nita Thapaliya who paid $110 on September 2 – five days after she was admitted at the hospital.
A unbelievable 2088 people made online donations raising $ 85,334.21 in a matter of just two days.
It was obvious that the patient would not die due to lack of medical expenses. Moreover, her insurance company agreed to cover a big share of the expenses (hospital costs only) after much negotiations by community leaders.
When Ms Khanal was released from hospital late August after spending two months at RMH, community leaders became suspicious of Mr Koirala’s intentions after he sent his wife to Nepal. Deepa Rai, who visited her day in and day out, questioned as to why the subject of the massive donation drive was herself leaving the country whereas her dependent chose to stay back with hundreds of thousands of dollars in the bank account.
I did not donate because he could have fun!
The president of Nepalese Association of Victoria (NAV) Dr Anupam Pokharel remembers paying $500, a solid amount for donation by any standard. Now he also feels deceived and wants action taken. “I am considering myself as a complainant as I did not give money for him to have fun,” Dr Pokharel said during a conversation with southasia.com.au. He claims he still has proof of payment in his bank statement.
In retrospect, he too feels that something fishy was going on. “Few days after I sent the $500, I reached Dwijesh through Facebook and he even did not receive my call,” he said adding he asked how the fund-raising was going and whether or not they had enough funds to take care of things. “But he did not respond at all!,” the doctor said.
Deepa Rai also feels sorry for what Dwijesh Koirala did to betray the trust of the community. “Dwijesh was never upfront about how much was collected. We heard lot of stories and I remember asking Dwijesh to tell us the truth – of course with straight face he told us that they had only got about 40 K and that he loved Shristy and would do everything for her,” she said.
Ms Rai told southasia.com.au that the couple kept distance from her as she began to question hard about the logic behind the husband staying back while the wife left Australia. The winner of Victoria Multicultural Award 2016 said she was initially reluctant to help because she found it selfish on the part of both of them, “I was reluctant to help but then of course, I found out no one wanted to help her either.”
Community gave Dwijesh Koirala the opportunity to clear his name
For months now, community leaders in Victoria have been trying to convince Dwijesh Koirala Shahi to come clear by paying the money back to Shristy Khanal. A draft agreement between the estranged husband and his wife was charted on 3 December 2016 according to which Mr Koirala would pay $70,000 to Ms Khanal.
Raju Shakya said over $180,000 was raised and that Mr Koirala indirectly agreed to the estimation when mentioned to him. But both Mr Shakya and Ms Rai suspect a lot of money was also raised in cash. No one knows if all the cash raised was depositing into the account. Donations also came from abroad, it specially poured in from Israel through PayPal.
But he never paid the amount although initially he showed a willingness to comply. “Dwijesh had full intention of misusing the fund,” Ms Rai expressed her frustration, “I have looked at financial statements – he had started moving funds a couple of days after receiving donations.”
Ms Khanal accuses her husband of not being straight in regard to the cash donations and PayPal contributions.
Community leaders considering “financial advantage by deception”
Wife between life and death but husband goes shopping high-end
Bank statements indicate Dwijesh Koirala was busy shopping for high-end items when his wife was still at the hospital.
On 17 September 2014, he made purchases at JB Hi Fi worth $9868.92. Ms Khanal believes that figure was just for two items – fridge and washing machine. “It was a big fridge with two doors!”
She also believes that her husband bought motorbike, an expensive camera and many other personal effects while she in the hospital.
According to what a friend told Ms Khanal, her husband used the donated medical funds to buy a top quality “MSI Laptop” that cost as much as $3,500. A screenshot of the chat confirms that he bought the machine when she was already into the third day of her coma, showing just how little he cared about his ailing wife.
When she was at her apartment for few days (after being released from hospital) before leaving for Nepal with her father, she saw many high-end items at home. “I could not even lift the plates, they were so heavy and looked expensive,” she said. But her husband lied to her saying everything belonged to their roommate.
Dwijesh Koirala even sent $5,000 to his family back in Nepal while his wife was still in coma. Statements show he would send many times over, tens of thousands of dollars.
When Ms Khanal regained consciousness after days in coma, the first thing she heard was him talking to his parents about “money”. “Where did he get the money from?” was a question that naturally came to her mind, she stated during telephone conversations with southasia.com.au.
She said her husband was so audacious that he was telling her parents that she would not hear him talk because she was unconscious. She claims she heard the parents tell their son, “Send money.”
When she was back in Nepal, her in-laws did not come to see her and did not even talk on the phone properly, she complained.
Shamser Thapa & Associates providing free legal assistance to Shristy Khanal
Solicitor Sharma S Thapa sent a legal notice to Dwijesh Koirala on 9 Novemember for “Property Settlement”.The email warned Mr Koirala of “filing a Statement of Claim at the Court without further notice” if he failed to respond within 10 days.
Dr Thapa confirmed on Saturday that the Letter of Demand was sent to him, “He did respond stating that his Solicitor would contact me and requested not to commence legal action until his Solicitor’s response is received.”
Given her life situation, Shamser Thapa & Associates is providing free of cost service to Shristy Khanal. When asked if he was doing it “pro bono”, Dr Thapa advised that his office would charge no fee whatsoever. “We shall charge absolutely no fees even if we have to go to court,” the Sydney-based lawyer mentioned.
Dwijesh Koirala in Nepal
In the mean time, the subject of the debacle has just landed in Kathmandu. He left Australia because he never intended to pay the money back, Deepa Rai reckoned.
Mr Koirala was contacted by southasia.com.au through Facebook and WhatsApp.
Hours later he responded by saying, curtly, “All false accusations”.
“I had dedicated and given my 110% to help her get on her feet.. that’s all I have to say..” (sic) Mr Koirala responded through WhatsApp after hours of silence.
This article has been updated 15.01.17 1007 Hrs