Thursday, August 30, 2018

Fake Everest Climbing Permits Puts Mountaineering Company in Hot Water

Following the spring climbing season on Everest this year, mountaineering company Seven Summit Treks found itself in hot water when it was discovered that two of its clients were climbing under forged permits. The documents used a fake government seal and fake letterhead in an effort to collect the massive permit fee, which was pocketed by the forgers rather than handing over to the government officials. Now, the Ministry of Culture, Tourism, and Civil Aviation has handed down its punishment for the crime with a harsh sentence meant to send a message to other operators on Everest. 

Essentially, the forgery scheme went like this. Seven Summit employees registered a team of 12 climbers going to Everest together. All climbers attempting the mountain are required to pay an $11,000 fee, which goes into the government coffers. This 12 climbers did just that, but the individuals behind the scam later added two more climbers to the permit, forged their documents, and made off with the $22,000. The forgery was later uncovered by Ministry officials who were reviewing the permits last month. 

Today, the Nepali Department of Tourism handed down its judgement, levying a $44,000 fine –– twice the costs of the permits –– to Seven Summit Treks. Additionally, the DoT is also adding an additional Rs 50,000 ($443) fee for the company taking part in a fraudulent act. 

Mingma Sherpa, the managing director of Seven Summit Treks says that his company had no knowledge of the fraudulent act and that a former employee is to blame. That person now faces a seven year prison sentence and a RS 70,000 ($620) fine for their actions. It should also be pointed out that the two climbers who were listed on the fake permit – Australian Ian James Hibbert and Xu Zhong Zhou of China did not appear to have any part in the scam. 

As noted in the past, Seven Summit Treks has grown into one of the largest operators on Everest and takes clients to some of the highest mountains on the planet. But, there have been some questions about their operations in recent weeks. In addition to this story about the fake climbing permits, they also are at the heart of the recent reports of evacuation coverage provider Global Rescue not paying the bills for climbers being airlifted from Everest. GR says that Seven Summit Treks is using helicopter operators that are not on their approved list and isn't coordinating with them to handle evacuation operations –– something that isn't an issue with other climbing companies. As a result, Seven Summit Treks is leaving their clients high and dry, with some very big bills to pay on their own. 

Regardless of who is at fault with the fake permits however, it is clear that the Nepali government isn't playing around. The large fine and stiff jail sentences indicate that they are taking this very seriously, which is often the case when money is involved. 

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