Impoverished Nepal produces first billionaire: Forbes

KATHMANDU (AFP) - The impoverished Himalayan republic of Nepal, where Maoist revolutionaries came to power in 2008, has produced its first billionaire, according to a new study by Forbes magazine.

Binod Chaudhary, the 57-year-old head of the Chaudhary Group, owns popular noodle brand Wai Wai, exports herbal medicines to India and operates schools, retail outlets, banks, hospitals and telecoms companies in Nepal.

The magnate, whose family has run businesses since the 1930s, was included among 1,426 billionaires from around the world on the latest list compiled by US-based business magazine Forbes which was published on Monday.

"I'm humbled. As a businessman, you don't get a Nobel. This is my Nobel," Chaudhary, who is ranked 1,342 on the Forbes list with an estimated US$1 billion (S$1.25 billion), told Nepalese newspaper The Kathmandu Post on Tuesday.

His grandfather was a textile trader who migrated from the northwestern Indian state of Rajasthan to Kathmandu, opened a small shop, and soon began supplying goods to Nepal's erstwhile ruling family.

His father launched export operations to the US and Europe, and imported goods from Japan and Korea to Nepal.

Chaudhary junior never attended college and opted to join the family business at age 18.

His company, which has invested about US$90 million to open thirty hotels across Asia this year, has made much of its fortune through Singapore-based arm Cinnovation.

Nepal's Maoist party waged a 10-year insurgency and toppled the world's last Hindu monarchy. But its grassroots supporters accuse the leadership of betraying their sacrifices and stalling the development of the country, which the World Bank ranks among the poorest in the world.

An estimated 16,000 people died in the 1996-2006 civil war.

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