Scammers rob Rs5.6 billion in online investment fraud in Pakistan’s northwest

This photograph taken on November 19, 2015 shows Pakistani employees of online marketplace company at work in Karachi. (AFP)
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Updated 24 December 2020

Scammers rob Rs5.6 billion in online investment fraud in Pakistan’s northwest

  • PSlash opened an office in Peshawar in January promising profits of up to 13 percent on investments in real estate and digital and foreign currency
  • On its last day of operation on November 19, the firm had 105,000 investors, on November 20 a notification on the website read “System is hacked“

PESHAWAR: More than a 100,000 people in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province are believed to have been scammed out of Rs.5.6 billion by an online investment company that investigators failed to crack down on despite early reports of fraud, officials, lawyers and victims of the crime have said.
The company, PSlash, opened an office in Peshawar’s Deans Trade Center in January this year, promising profits of up to 13 percent on investments in real estate and digital and foreign currency. On its last day of operation on November 19, the firm had 105,000 registered investors, a former employee told Arab News.
But on November 20, a notification appeared on the website: “System is hacked.” Since then, victims of the scam say they are unable to reach any of the people who had said they were employed with the company. Many have lost their entire lifesavings.
The loss could have been avoided, lawyers and victims of the fraud say, if investigators and regulators had reacted in time. Indeed, reports of problems with the company were filed months before the company shuttered in November.
Jamal Afridi, an attorney for Yaseen Ullah, one victim of the scam, said he first filed a fraud report with the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) on August 24 and another one with the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) on September 16, saying the agencies “were sleeping when we were knocking at their doors.”
“On behalf of Yaseen Ullah, I met high officials and submitted written complaints to PTA, FIA and police about the suspected fraud company PSlash but no one took it seriously,” the Supreme Court advocate told Arab News.
“If the concerned departments had taken action accordingly, this billions of rupee scam would not have happened in Peshawar,” he added. “Now the government should investigate this issue and punish the concerned officers ... because of their negligence thousands of people lost money.”
Asad Khan, a provincial officer at the FIA, admitted that the online fraud was worth “billions of rupees” but declined to comment when asked why investigators had not acted earlier, despite reports of fraud.
“Right now, we are not in a position to disclose the initial progress [in the case],” he said.
PTA spokesman Khurram Mehrab told Arab News that the regulator started investigating PSlash after receiving a complaint in September, but declined to give more details.
“After receiving the compliant, we started an investigation into this online fraud,” he said. “There are thousands of websites, and until there is a complaint, PTA can’t monitor each and every one.”
It is unclear to date who the owner of PSlash was, but one police report filed in Peshawar names a Rabia Batool. However, neither investors nor former employees of the company that Arab News spoke with have ever met Batool.
Victims said they were in touch with two men called Wasim Zeb and Nabeel Khan who presented themselves as local executives of the company.
“I only knew the local executives and they would tell us that PSlash is a worldwide [company] investing in forex, digital currency and real estate trade,” a former employee told Arab News on condition of anonymity.
He said the company had changed its name three times, from Earn Bitcoin to Payslash and finally to PSlash. When investors questioned its credibility, agents and managerial staff would tell them that it was registered with the Company Security Exchange of Pakistan (CSEP).
A database of companies on CSEP’s website does not include the name of PSlash.
For now, there is no respite for victims of the fraud, many of whom are poor laborers who invested their entire life savings in the scheme.
Muhammad Noor, a daily wage earner, said a friend advised him to borrow money from relatives to invest in PSlash and make a quick profit. He invested Rs2.5 million ($15,625).
“Now I am under an unbearable burden,” he said. “I have already sold my wife’s jewelry.”
Construction contractor Abid Afridi invested Rs500,000 ($3,125) and received one interest payment of Rs10,000 ($62.5) — but only in the first month after the investment.
“It’s very unfortunate and shocking for me and my family that we have lost our savings,” he said. “I am unaware of the legal process and no one knows what to do now.”
Abdur Rehman, who invested Rs1.5 million ($9,375) in the business, said he and several other investors had paid the money to PSlash in person and in cash.
In November, Rehman said, a few of the investors had managed to trace Zeb, the alleged company employee, who had promised to recover their lost funds.
“I am with you and will recover your money soon,” Rehman said, quoting Zeb from the meeting. “But he has since disappeared into thin air.”


Looking forward to Chinese president’s visit this year — Pakistani foreign minister

Updated 02 March 2021

Looking forward to Chinese president’s visit this year — Pakistani foreign minister

  • Qureshi says President Xi Jinping’s visit “will be seminal in further elevating our ties”
  • Says “complete consensus” on indispensability of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor for Pakistan’s development

ISLAMABAD: Foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said on Tuesday Islamabad was looking forward to a visit by the Chinese president to Pakistan this year. 

Qureshi made the remarks at the virtual launch of year-long celebrations to mark 70 years of diplomatic ties between Pakistan and China.

China and Pakistan consider each other “all-weather friends” and have close diplomatic, economic and security ties.

“We are looking forward to receive President Xi Jinping to Pakistan this year,” the foreign office said in a statement, quoting Qureshi. “We believe that the visit will be seminal in further elevating our ties.”

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) agreement has seen Beijing pledge over $60 billion for infrastructure projects in Pakistan, central to China’s wider Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to develop land and sea trade routes in Asia and beyond.

“Pakistan supports President Xi’s visionary Belt and Road Initiative that has become a pivot for connectivity and global economic growth,” Qureshi said. “There is complete consensus across the political spectrum in Pakistan on CPEC’s indispensability for our national development.”

“Our diplomatic relations were formally established on 21st May 1951 and since then have grown from strength to strength,” the foreign minister said. “In the past seventy years, our relationship has turned into an ‘All-Weather Strategic Cooperative Partnership’ which is an anchor for peace, stability, and development in the region.”


Pakistan extends flight bans on United Kingdom, South Africa over COVID-19 fears

Updated 02 March 2021

Pakistan extends flight bans on United Kingdom, South Africa over COVID-19 fears

  • Restrictions apply until March 14 to avoid the spread of more contagious new coronavirus variants
  • Latest development comes as Pakistan reported 42 additional deaths, increasing overall COVID-19 toll to 12,938

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s civil aviation authority is extending restrictions on travel from the UK, South Africa and some other countries until March 14 to avoid the spread of more contagious new coronavirus variants. 
The measures were imposed in January after other countries also applied restrictions on travel from Britain and South Africa.
Later Pakistan also imposed similar restrictions on travel from Portugal, Netherlands, Tanzania, Botswana, Columbia, Comoros, Ghana, Ireland, Kenya, Zambia, Brazil and Mozambique. These restrictions are to remain until March 14.
The latest development comes as Pakistan reported 42 additional deaths, increasing the country’s overall COVID-19 toll to 12,938. Pakistan also reported 1,163 new cases. 


Pakistan election commission establishes monitoring cell to curb corrupt practice in senate polls

Updated 02 March 2021

Pakistan election commission establishes monitoring cell to curb corrupt practice in senate polls

  • Commission has established a three-member committee to finalize recommendations for use of technology in senate elections
  • Legal experts say the commission must enforce campaign finance laws to allow level playing field to all candidates

ISLAMABAD: The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) said on Tuesday it would conduct March 3 senate polls through secret ballot, though it also established a special monitoring cell at its secretariat to identify any corrupt practices in the elections.
The ECP made the announcement after the country’s top court encouraged it to use technology to make the electoral contest as fair as possible.
Following the apex court’s opinion in response to a presidential reference, the commission constituted a three-member committee to prepare recommendations for the use of technology in the Senate elections.
The committee will finalize its recommendations within four weeks, the ECP said in a statement on Tuesday. 
“The commission also decided that due to time constraint, ensuing Senate elections scheduled for March 3, 2021 will be conducted as provided in the constitution and law as per past practice,” it said. 
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government sought the apex court’s opinion through a presidential reference filed on December 23, 2020, asking if voting in senate polls could be held through open ballot.
After several court proceedings, the Supreme Court said it was the ECP’s job to ensure transparent senate polls. 
The commission said on Tuesday it had taken numerous steps to ensure transparency in Senate elections including publicizing its email addresses and phone numbers and requesting the general public and all relevant institutions to register complaints in case of any malpractice in the polls. 
The electoral body said it had established a vigilance committee, a complaint management system and a special monitoring cell to curb any corrupt practices in the polls. 
The chief election commissioner also held a meeting with heads of Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) and Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to seek their suggestions in how to hold fair and free elections. 
The commission directed all relevant agencies and organizations to remain vigilant and inform the election commission for early legal action in case of any illegality in the polls. 
Lawmakers in the national and provincial assemblies constitute the electoral college and vote for 48 Senators. Each member of the Upper House of Parliament is elected for a six-year term. Half of the senate members retire after every three years and new ones are elected. The house has equal representation from all four provinces. 
Political and legal experts said the election commission should use its authority to restore public trust in the transparency of the senate and general elections. 
“Secret voting in senate elections gives legislators an option to decide as per their conscience, instead of just casting their votes in favor of their party candidates,” Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, president of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT), told Arab News. 
He said that political leadership should focus on introducing democracy within their parties and make decisions through consultation instead of forcing decisions on their members. 
“If the parties select candidates through a democratic process, the issue of corruption in Senate elections will die down to a large extent,” he said. 
Barrister Saad Rasool, an expert on election laws, said transparency in the polls could not be ensured unless the election commission takes action against those who violate the campaign finance laws. 
“We cannot achieve true democracy in Pakistan if we continue to allow wealthy and influential candidates to trample the election finance laws,” he told Arab News. “It is the responsibility of the election commission to provide a level playing field to all contesting candidates.”


Two more foreign cricketers positive for virus in Pakistan 

Updated 02 March 2021

Two more foreign cricketers positive for virus in Pakistan 

  • They bring to four the number of known infections in Pakistan Super League 
  • Pakistan Cricket Board official says league will continue with testing every three days 

KARACHI: Two more foreign cricketers and one staffer tested positive for the coronavirus in the Pakistan Super League on Tuesday. 
One unnamed player was from Islamabad United, while the other two’s names and teams were not identified by Pakistan Cricket Board media and communications director Sami Ul Hasan.

They bring to four the number of known infections in the league after Australian leg spinner Fawad Ahmed tested positive on Saturday. His Islamabad side had its scheduled game against Quetta Gladiators on Monday postponed to Tuesday.

Hasan said that game will go ahead, and the league will continue with testing every three days. Spectators will also continue to be allowed.

All four people who tested positive are in 10-day isolation. 


'Pawri' power: five-second social media clip pulls Pakistan, India closer

Updated 02 March 2021

'Pawri' power: five-second social media clip pulls Pakistan, India closer

  • Video shot by Dananeer Mobeen in Nathaigali mountains shows a group of youngsters enjoying themselves by a roadside
  • She deliberately mispronounces “party” as “pawri” to poke fun at South Asians with Western accents, sparking trending hashtags and millions of views 

KARACHI: A 19-year-old Pakistani student who shot to fame after her five-second video went viral on social media across the subcontinent, hopes numerous renditions of her monologue will translate into more dialogue between rival neighbors India and Pakistan.
The short video shot by Dananeer Mobeen in the Nathaigali mountains of northern Pakistan and uploaded onto Instagram shows a group of youngsters enjoying themselves by a roadside.
Swinging around the device she is filming on, Mobeen gestures behind her and says in Urdu, “This is our car, this is us, and this is our party taking place.”
Seemly innocuous, she deliberately mispronounces the English word “party” as “pawri” to poke fun at South Asians who adopt Western accents. It immediately struck a chord in both India and Pakistan, sparking top trending hashtags on social media, and garnering millions of views and hundreds of spin-offs.
“It was the most random video. I initially had no intention of uploading it,” Mobeen said, expressing surprise at how viral it had gone and adding the trend showed the power and reach of social media.
“Pawri” monologue renditions have been used by police in India and the Delhi Commission for Women in their social media outreach campaigns.
In one video, two Indian soldiers deployed in snowy mountains give it their own spin with “This is us, this is our gun, and we are patrolling here,” while popular Bollywood actors Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone each did a version that also went viral.
Indian dairy company Amul, known for inculcating trendy takes on current issues in its advertisements, did a “this is our pav-tea” version, in a nod to a popular bread snack eaten with tea.

Even politicians jumped on the bandwagon, with a leader from India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party using the catchy hook at an election rally.
“I’m honored and grateful for all the love across the border,” said Mobeen, expressing her happiness at fostering some rare friendly cross-border dialogue.
India and Pakistan, both nuclear-armed nations, have fought three wars and often had tense relations since gaining independence in 1947.
Relations had most recently soured over developments in the northern region of Kashmir, which both countries control in parts but claim in full.
Last week, their militaries released a rare joint statement saying they had agreed to observe a cease-fire along the disputed Kashmir border, after exchanging fire hundreds of times over past months.
Since the video went viral, Mobeen said she has been inundated with acting and modelling offers, along with requests for product endorsements. Instead, she says she aspires to join Pakistan’s foreign services.