This Ireland-based company works on behalf of international insurance underwriters in Nepal and other ‘difficult countries’ on medical assistance, insurance processing and ‘cost containment’ – a euphemism for investigating and reducing false claims.
All stories in the international media in the past year exposing insurance fraud in Nepal’s trekking industry quote Traveller Assist’s Danny Kaine, an ex-soldier and a frequent Nepal visitor. This week, Kaine is said to have delivered a letter from Traveller Assist Managing Director Jonathan Bancroft addressed to the Minister of Tourism Rabindra Adhikari in which he has threatened to get his clients to stop issuing coverage for Nepal after 15 February unless those guilty of fraudulent rescues are charged. The letter was leaked to international media and got wide coverage.
Ministry officials say they are now strictly monitoring unnecessary rescue flights, and claim that the numbers have come down. “We are surprised by these damaging leaks to the international press at a time when we were cleaning up the industry,” said a Ministry official. “We have taken note of the threatening tone of the letter. Who are they to be giving an ultimatum to the Government of Nepal on behalf of their clients?”
Indeed, reputable agencies and hospitals in Nepal, while admitting there are dodgy companies involved in insurance scams, accuse Kaine of writing them emails soliciting all insurance business for himself. Ministry officials also refuted Kaine’s claim that he has an agreement with the government to uncover rescue fraud. The Police Central Investigation Bureau is reportedly probing Kaine’s activities in Nepal, and confirmed that he flew out this week.
Many media reports quote Traveller Assist’s statistics on the fraudulent rate for the 3,200 helicopter rescues in 2018. Doctors specialising in high altitude medicine interviewed by Nepali Times say that even if a company had access to so many medical records of rescues, it would still be difficult to determine the exact condition of the patient, and whether a rescue was necessary or not in cases of Acute Mountain Sickness.
In an interview in Kathmandu last week, Kaine denied writing emails to trekking agencies and hospitals, and demanded to see them. He added: “I don’t have any personal interest in this, but Nepali companies are cheating American, British and Australian insurance firms as reported in the international media. If the guilty are not charged, we will increase international attention on this issue.”
In a separate note to Nepali Times on 29 January, Kaine said the emails about him were ‘fabricated … by one of the companies named in the fraudulent investigation’. He went on to accuse this paper of ‘acting on behalf of the companies accused of fraud … a very dangerous precedent to set for a journalist from a respected news agency in Nepal’.
Earlier, in answer to a simple email query about whether Kaine really worked for Traveller Assist, Jonathan Bancroft was needlessly abrasive, and accused this reporter of trying to play him off against Kaine. Bancroft went on to add: ‘Mr Sharad, after asking some questions in the industry in Nepal about you … (it) _gives me the inclination to no longer communicate with you or your organization…’.