Thousands of Pakistanis lose life savings in $100 million cryptocurrency scam

A Pakistani stockbroker looks at share prices on a computer monitor during a trading session in Karachi, Pakistan, on May 8, 2019. (AFP/File)
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Updated 14 January 2022

Thousands of Pakistanis lose life savings in $100 million cryptocurrency scam

  • Investigators estimate some 37,000 people, mostly from Punjab province, had invested money in the scheme that promised to multiply it
  • In the wake of the crypto scandal, State Bank of Pakistan has recommended banning cryptocurrency in the country

KARACHI: Thousands of Pakistanis have lost their life savings in a $100 million cryptocurrency scam, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has said, as it is probing the case amid recommendations to ban digital currencies in the country. 
The State Bank of Pakistan on Wednesday recommended banning cryptocurrency, arguing that allowing it would cause capital flight. The recommendation followed another by a committee formed by the Sindh High Court that also urged imposing a “complete ban.” 
The recommendations came as the court has been hearing a constitutional petition filed in 2019, which seeks to overturn the central bank’s guidance from 2018 advising banks and payment system operators against processing and investing in virtual currencies. 
The current ambiguity surrounding the legality of digital currency trade has made it easier for Pakistanis to fall prey to the recent scheme. 
Investigators estimate some 37,000 people, mostly from middle-class households in Punjab’s Faisalabad had been defrauded after investing money in the scheme that promised to multiply it. 
“The range of investment was from $100 to $80,000,” Imran Riaz, head of the FIA’s cybercrime division in Sindh, told Arab News earlier this week. “On an average each member has invested $2,000, so with safe estimation we can say that it (amount involved) is $100 million.” 

"There are many stories, many victims stories," he said. "There was one victim ... he sold all the gold of his mother to just get rich quickly, and his mother didn't know about it. He was crying all the time that 'what should I do and how should I tell this to my mother that I've lost everything?'"

Head of Federal Investigation Agency’s Cybercrime Zone in Sindh, Imran Riaz, talks to Arab News about a mega cryptocurrency scam in Karachi, Pakistan, on January 11, 2022. (AN Photo)

The scammers used fraudulent apps such as MCX, HFC, HTFOX, FXCOPY, OKIMINI, BB001, AVG86C, BX66, 91FP, UG, TASKTOK, with the wallets of Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, linked to them. They would add their victims to Telegram groups where they shared advice on cryptocurrency trading. Once the users transferred their money from Binance to the apps used in the scheme, the applications would crash, and victims would no longer have access to their funds. 
Riaz said the FIA had approached Binance to get the record of 26 wallets that were used in the fraud. 
“We have asked Binance that, once you have integrated these apps with the system, (you) must have asked for certain additional security checks,” Riaz said. “On the basis of this information we can make a case and arrest people.” 
The company, he added, had agreed to extend its full support to the FIA and nominated a team comprising two former investigators of the US Department of Treasury to coordinate with FIA. 
Simon Mathews, Binance public relations director for Europe, told Arab News the company was in touch with FIA, but did not provide more details. 
Proponents of cryptocurrency trade in Pakistan argue that such scams are mostly caused by the absence of a legal framework. 
Waqar Zaka, a Pakistani television host and activist who is pleading a case for regulating digital currencies, believes regulation would help keep fraud at bay. 
“I pleaded the court that people have invested billions of rupees in crypto trade and the government should not declare it illegal,” he said. “Instead, it should devise a mechanism to legalize the business, and keep a check on transactions.” 

President apologizes to senior citizen over administrative injustice by tax collection body

Updated 4 min 38 sec ago

President apologizes to senior citizen over administrative injustice by tax collection body

  • An 82-year-old taxpayer was made to undergo extreme agony after he demanded a small refund of Rs2,333
  • The president ordered punitive action against those who humiliated the elderly man by launching a litigation process

ISLAMABAD: President Arif Alvi on Sunday issued an apology to a senior Pakistani citizen who was mistreated by the country's tax collection body while instructing relevant authorities to take an action against those who dragged the 82-year-old into a litigation process to humiliate him for over a year.

According to the President Office, the senior taxpayer, Abdul Hamid Khan, had to undergo a lot of inconvenience after he demanded a refund of Rs2,333 ($13.21) which was refused by an official of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR).

Khan was subsequently dragged into a litigation process that lasted for over a year.

“Apologizing to the senior citizen Mr. Abdul Hamid Khan, the President said that our heads should hang in shame for the inconvenience caused by FBR to the senior citizen,” the statement said.

"Punitive action must be taken along the entire line of decision-makers in this case and chairman FBR should ensure that those responsible, in particular, and others, in general, go through courses to teach them priorities and courtesies," it quoted the president as saying.

Khan had claimed the refund on his income tax return for last year by submitting requisite documents of advance tax deduction on October 19, 2020.

“The complainant e-filed refund application on 19th October, 2020, followed by representation to FBR Chairman on 24th December, 2020,” the official statement said. “The Unit officer of FBR rejected his refund claim on the grounds that the applicant had failed to furnish the original certificates required for authentication.”

“This must be the most pitiful and shameful use of bureaucratic authority,” noted the president.

He also regretted that the FBR official had wasted everyone's time, including the tax ombudsman and the president himself.

The statement added Alvi “deplored that no one in the long chain of bureaucrats at the FBR deliberated over the issue to take note of the unfairness, pettiness and superfluousness of the matter.”

Afghanistan turns down Pakistan’s offer to export skilled labor

Updated 24 min 38 sec ago

Afghanistan turns down Pakistan’s offer to export skilled labor

  • The Pakistani prime minister offered to send qualified human resource to Afghanistan during a meeting last week
  • Afghanistan’s deputy information minister Zabihullah Mujahid told international media his country had enough educated young people

ISLAMABAD: The interim Taliban administration in Kabul politely turned down Pakistan’s offer to send skilled human resource to Afghanistan on Sunday, saying there were already enough educated young people in the war-battered country.
The idea of exporting “qualified and trained manpower” was floated by Prime Minister Imran Khan during an apex committee meeting on Friday “to stave off humanitarian crisis” to the neighboring state.

However, Afghanistan’s deputy information minister Zabihullah Mujahid thanked Islamabad for the suggestion during a BBC interview while saying that his country did not require outside labor.
“There are enough educated young people to work in the ministries and there is no need for outside manpower,” Mujahid said in an audio recording that was released by an Afghan Taliban official based in the country’s political office in Qatar.
Earlier, Afghanistan’s former president Hamid Karzai had also taken a similar stance while responding to the Pakistani prime minister’s statement.
Karzai wrote in a Twitter post that Afghanistan had experienced staff and professionals, as well as hundreds of thousands of educated young people, including girls and boys, who had been trained at various levels inside and outside the country.
Pakistan has tried to convince the world to provide humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan and plans to send its national security adviser Dr. Moeed Yusuf to the neighboring country this week to discuss the overall situation.
Last week, the administration in Islamabad renewed its appeal to the international community and relief agencies to provide aid at this critical juncture to the war-torn country to avert its economic collapse and save precious lives.
“The Apex Committee was informed that Afghanistan is at the verge of hunger and crisis situation during this harsh winter,” the PM Office said in a Twitter post. “The crisis makes it difficult for the people to get enough food and shelter.”

Earlier this month, a team of Pakistani engineers and technicians arrived in Kabul to ensure the installation and provision of medical equipment and medicines at three hospitals in Afghanistan.
Pakistan’s ambassador to Afghanistan Mansoor Ahmad Khan had told Arab News last week the visit of the Pakistani engineers and technicians would be followed by other such tours in the future so the hospitals could be upgraded further.
The initiative was part of a Rs5 billion Humanitarian Assistance Package announced by the Pakistani prime minister for Afghanistan in November last year.

Punjab inquiry committee blames Murree tragedy on administrative negligence — local media

Updated 17 January 2022

Punjab inquiry committee blames Murree tragedy on administrative negligence — local media

  • The five-member committee probing the death of 23 snow-tourists in the popular mountainous resort completed its investigation on Sunday
  • A Pakistani court castigated the National Disaster Management Authority last week for not making adequate preparations to prevent the tragedy

ISLAMABAD: A five-member committee that was formed to probe the recent deaths of snow-tourists at a popular mountainous resort in Pakistan attributed the tragedy to administrative negligence after finishing its investigation on Sunday, local media reported.

The committee was set up by the provincial administration of Punjab last week after 23 people, including women and children, lost their lives after getting stuck in a snowstorm in Murree for several hours.

Most of the victims suffered hypothermia as temperatures fell to -8°C (17.6°F). Officials said some died of carbon monoxide poisoning from running their car heaters while their mufflers were choked by snow.

While the inquiry committee is yet to prepare its report which will be presented to Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar in the next few days, Geo News reported that it found the local administration responsible for not doing enough while the tragedy was unfolding in Murree.

"The probe has revealed that on the day of the incident, several snow ploughs were parked at the same place which led to road blockages, the administrative staff was absent from duty, while a blizzard warning from the metrological department was blatantly neglected, according to sources," the report said on Monday.

The committee recorded statements of several tourists along with officials of various administrative departments in Murree during its probe.

The Islamabad High Court also looked into the incident last week, blaming the country's National Disaster Management Authority for not making adequate preparations to deal with the situation which led to the death of so many tourists.

Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa signs agreements worth $8 billion at Expo Dubai

Updated 16 January 2022

Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa signs agreements worth $8 billion at Expo Dubai

  • Foreign firms, investors express keen interest in industrial, infrastructure, food processing and energy sectors
  • Feasibility reports of projects presented at the mega exhibition have already been completed, officials say

KARACHI: The provincial government of Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province on Sunday signed over 40 memorandums of understanding (MoUs) at Expo 2020 Dubai that would bring foreign investment worth $8 billion home, the KP investment board and officials said. 
Described as “the event of the century,” the expo kicked off in October, bringing together representatives from more than 190 countries. The exhibition is the largest global gathering since the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic and will run until April 2022. 
Pakistan’s pavilion at the expo has been highlighting investment opportunities, tourism potential and cultural magnificence of the country. In January, its highlight is the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. 
Foreign firms and investors expressed their keen interest in various projects in tourism, industrial, infrastructure, food processing, livestock, energy and power sectors, and a water sports theme park in KP’s Swabi district at an investment conference at Expo Dubai on Sunday. 
“International firms have signed 44 memorandums of understanding (MoUs) worth $8 billion during the Expo 2020 Dubai,” KP finance minister Taimur Saleem Jhagra said, while addressing attendees at the conference. 
Jhagra said the KP government had presented these projects in a better way. “For the promotion of tourism in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the government is presenting ready projects at the expo for investment,” he said. 

KP finance minister Taimur Saleem Jhagra is addressing the attendees at the conference in Dubai, UAE, on January 16, 2022. (Photo courtesy: @kptourism/Twitter)

KP had vast investment opportunities in tourism, energy and power, infrastructure and other sectors, according to the minister. The Swat Expressway was built under a public-private partnership and now it was being extended to other cities to boost trade and economy, he said. 
Among the attendees at the conference were chief executive officers (CEOs) of the Samara Group, Mazaya Group (EGI), Jannat & AJ Group, Almasa Group and a number of Dubai-based and international investors, who expressed their willingness to invest in various tourism projects in the northwestern Pakistani province. 
“Investment groups that have signed MoUs include Enertech-Kuwait Investment Authority (KIA), Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power (KHNP), Private Office of Sheikh Ahmed Dalmook-Al-Maktoum, Samara Group, VR Group, Sigma Group, Malik Foams, Nobel Future Land & many others,” KP chief minister Mahmood Khan said on Twitter. 
“Investments in the development of food processing zones, integrated tourism zones (ITZ), Solarization of Economic Zones, Construction of Transmission Lines across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa will help in transforming KP by creating economic opportunities and increase in employment.” 

 Jhagra said his government had planned to establish an Overseas Pakistan Council to facilitate investors, saying the process was currently in the legislation stage. The KP government had established a special economic zone (SEZ) in Rashakai and that people were now coming to invest in the province, he added. 
KP culture minister Shaukat Yousafzai said the province had a huge potential for investment and these agreements would help increase the flow of foreign investment into the province. 

Pakistan's ambassador to UAE Afzaal Mehmood (first left) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) provincal ministers attend the ceremony at Expo 2020 Dubai in Dubai, UAE, on January 16, 2022. (Photo courtesy: @kptourism/Twitter)

Shahab Ali Shah, the KP additional chief secretary, said only those projects were presented at the expo, whose feasibility reports were complete and only investors were needed. 
“The government is ready to provide a one-window facility to investors,” he added. 

Pakistan’s pandemic response body mulls virus curbs as infection rate continues to soar

Updated 8 min 30 sec ago

Pakistan’s pandemic response body mulls virus curbs as infection rate continues to soar

  • Provincial health and education ministers asked to propose restrictions for different sectors
  • Pakistan reported over 4,000 cases of coronavirus for the third consecutive day on Monday

ISLAMABAD: The National Command and Operation Center (NCOC), Pakistan’s top pandemic response body, is holding an important meeting on Monday to mull new restrictions relating to coronavirus, Pakistani state media reported, as the South Asian nation continues to fight a fifth wave of infections.
Pakistan reported over 4,000 new infections for the third consecutive day on Monday. According to official figures, 4,340 people tested positive for the virus in the last 24 hours, taking the overall positivity rate to 8.71 percent in the country.

The fifth wave of the infections is primarily driven by the highly transmissible omicron strain, which emerged in South Africa in November last year and rapidly spread to other parts of the world.
In its meeting on Saturday, the NCOC discussed the disease prevalence and non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) in the wake of rising infections in the country, especially in urban centers, the state-run APP news agency reported.
“It reviewed the existing NPIs and called on provincial health and education ministers session on 17 January [20]22 to suggest the new set of NPIs focusing on education sector, public gatherings, marriage ceremonies, indoor/outdoor dining and transport sector,” the report read.
The NCOC decided to engage with provinces, especially Sindh, to take necessary measures to stem the spread of coronavirus.
It ordered a complete ban on inflight serving of meals and snacks from Monday. Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has been tasked to ensure people follow all coronavirus-related standard operating procedures (SOPs) at airports and on flights.
The NCOC called upon provincial governments to take stern action against violators of coronavirus SOPs and ensure the enforcement of the obligatory vaccination regime.
The pandemic response body also asked provinces to carry out immediate surveys of health care facilities, fast-track vaccination drive and ramp up efforts to achieve targets.