· 927 nationals of 32 African countries are presently in Bangladesh · The visas of 455 of them had expired · 157 of them were charged with fraud and other crimes
Organised criminal gangs from various African countries and other places have been active for over the past 10 years in Bangladesh, cheating people through various scams. Initially these international fraudsters would lure people with promises of doubling their dollars. In the past years, they have resorted to promising attractive 'gifts' from abroad and also have been hacking Facebook accounts and using friend lists to entrap people in their various ploys.
Police sources say that the persons arrested for such cheating, include persons from nine countries. So far 86 of them are in various jails of the country. These include 66 from Nigeria, 6 from the Cameroons, 2 each from Peru, Tanzania, Guinea and Ghana, and 1 each from Algeria, Mali and Kenya.
Most of these arrested persons came to Bangladesh on business or visit visas. Some of them claim to have lost their passports. They file general diaries (GD) with the police stations and thus stay on illegally. Most of these persons involved in the scams live at rented premises in Uttara, Ashkona and Khilkhet or at hotels. They introduce themselves as footballers or buying house businesspersons.
Victims succumb to the lure of getting rich quick and fall into these traps
According to records of the police's Special Branch (SB), there are 927 nationals from 32 countries of Africa in Bangladesh at the moment. The visas of 455 of these persons have expired. And 157 of them are accused in various cases for cheating and other crimes.
Persons involved in the investigations said that most of the persons who have been cheated are educated men and women of various professions. All of them have been swindled of over Tk 100,000 ( Tk 1 lakh). Recently a businessman was cheated of Tk 2.2 million (Tk 22 lakh) by these swindlers.
Head of the Police Bureau of Investigation (PBI), Banaj Kumar Majumder, speaking to Prothom Alo, said reports often appear in the media about these con gangs from various countries of Africa. Even so, people continue to be duped by them. The victims succumb to the lure of getting rich quick and fall into these traps.
How the people are cheated
A young businessman of Barishal made friends with a person called Jenitory on Facebook. Jenitory claimed to be an American woman. A few days later she said that she had sent the young man a 'gift box' to his address in Barishal. Two days after that, he received a phone call from an unknown number. A person claiming to be 'William', said that his gift box was waiting at the Shahjalal International Airport. A few days on, another person, claiming to be a customs officer, phoned and asked him to send VAT payment of Tk 51,260. He gave a certain bank account number and the young man sent the money.
The young man, unwilling to reveal his name, told Prothom Alo that the day after he sent the Tk 51,260 VAT payment, the man called William called him and said that the gift box would be scanned. If it had valuables within, he would be in a problem. If he paid a non-scanning fee of Tk 129,450, then the box would not be scanned. The young man sent the money. The so-called William then called again and said that the law enforcement had seized the gift box. The young businessman said he didn't need the gift. 'William' said his name and address was on the box and so the police may come in search for him.
This victim said that 'William' told him that he was an American national and so if he got a certificate from the embassy, them the law enforcement would release the gift box. But that would require Tk 382,500 as certificate fees. After he sent the money, he was told that the High Court seal would be required on the certificate and that would need another Tk 150,000. He had to pay yet another Tk 70,000 for some miscellaneous airport charges. But he never found the gift box.
Later a man named Suleiman scared him further and made away with another Tk 870,000 to 'protect' him from the law enforcement. The young man had to borrow money from his friends to pay this amount. Later, after seeing a news report about such scams, he realised he was being conned.
CID sub-inspector Newton Dutta, speaking to Prothom Alo, said that the recent spate of such incidents have been of similar nature. The people who had been contacting the businessman from Barishal, were all of the same criminal gang. They used the same picture of a gift box in their communications with several persons. They just changed the names in each case. They created a fake courier website with a tracking number that indicated where the gift was at the time. So even if the victims were educated, they believed that the gift was genuinely being sent to them.
CID has also found that such scamsters have been hacking people's Facebook ID and using the friend lists to cheat people. During investigations, a Facebook ID of a person called Anita Jim Rose was detected. The ID picture depicted a woman in US army uniform. Later they found that this ID had also been opened in the name of a certain Mim Islam. Another ID in the name of Kulunder Kevin had been opened by someone called Mohammed Mizan.
These gangs of con artists began operating in Bangladesh from 2005-06. They would book rooms in five-star hotels to portray themselves as wealthy businessmen. They would promise two 100 dollars notes in exchange of one, or sell dollars very cheaply, handing over counterfeit currency. They would come up with schemes of investing overseas, sometimes pretending to be extremely wealthy citizens of war-torn countries, asking for help to keep their money in people's bank accounts.
Nigerians in Bangladesh used their duty-free beer and other liquor to strike up friendship with some Bangladeshis. Also, when in jail, they would make friends with the inmates there. Later when out on bail, they would commit further crimes together
The Bangladeshi associates of these foreign crime syndicates are also organised. A woman named Rahat Ara Khanam was arrested by CID on 21 July for her involvement with such criminal gangs. She would pretend to be a customs officer and help the criminals in their scams. She was arrested along with 13 Nigerian nationals.
During interrogations, Rahat Ara revealed that Frank Jack, the owner of the Afro-Asia restaurant in Basundhara residential area, was one of the main persons in the fraudulent rings. He would send invitation letters to persons from various African countries to facilitate their visas to Bangladesh. At least two others, including a certain Al-Amin in Chattogram, would help them in this regard in exchange of a commission. Another young man, Sohail, would facilitate their mobile phone SIMs. RAB later arrested Frank Jack.
In its report sent to the police headquarters, PBI said that the Nigerians who had been living in Bangladesh for long, would facilitate other Nigerians to come too. They had a fake organisation called the Nigerian Community Association in Bangladesh (NCAB) and would collect money in the name of this association. The association bears all expenses for the Nigerian criminals to conduct their cases and arranges to have them released.
These gangs need the help of Bangladeshis in two areas. Firstly, they need a Bangladeshi man or woman to make the phone call in the guise of a customs officer, saying that the gift box has arrived at the airport. Secondly, a bank account was needed to collect the 'VAT' and other monetary deposits.
The investigating officers said that the gang with which Rahat Ara Khanam was associated, operated 37 bank accounts for their transactions. They even found the same persons having several accounts in the same bank. Seven bank accounts were used to extract the Tk 2.2 million (Tk 22 lakh) from the young businessman of Barishal. Two of the bank account addresses were fake. And no one could be located at the addresses provided with the other bank accounts.
CID's additional special superintendent of police, Zakir Hossain, told Prothom Alo that they had ascertained that these bank accounts were being opened with false documents. The bank authorities had failed to properly verify the details of the persons opening the bank accounts.
After investigating a number of such incidents, PBI sent a letter in 2018 to the police headquarters. It said that the Nigerians in Bangladesh used their duty-free beer and other liquor to strike up friendship with some Bangladeshis. Also, when in jail, they would make friends with the inmates there. Later when out on bail, they would commit further crimes together. Despite going to jail several times, they would stay on in Bangladesh to continue with their scams.
According to police sources, from 2017 till July this year, 2,704 persons from five African countries have come to Bangladesh. The highest number, 2,201, came from Nigeria. And 81 came from Ghana, 102 from Uganda, 138 from Cameroon and 182 from Kenya.
The first secretary of the Bangladesh embassy in Nigeria, Bidosh Chandra Barman, speaking to Prothom Alo over mobile phone on Saturday, said visas were issued after all criteria and conditions were met. Invitation letters and other papers were sent for business visas. These were scrutinised. Even so, they saw news reports that some of the nationals got involved in criminal activities. If the immigration officers looked into incidents, they could specify where the errors were made.
CID's additional deputy inspector general Rezaul Haider, speaking on Thursday to Prothom Alo, said that CID had arrested over 50 national of various African countries over the past few months. All sorts of new allegations were cropping up. He said the victims delayed in coming with their complaints. If they came immediately, it would be easier to identify and arrest these swindlers.