Arrests made over Bitcoin extortion

Suspects threatened foreign nationals with drug case


Nouman Sheikh March 07, 2021
Bitcoin transaction volumes on darknet markets rose throughout 2018 to an average of $2 million daily. PHOTO: REUTERS

LAHORE:

Police have arrested several people nominated in the country’s first case of extortion in cryptocurrency from two foreign nationals but the main suspect has reportedly fled abroad.

The police said they had arrested the owner of an outhouse where the complainants were held hostage and two other suspects, including one who threatened the victims in police uniform.

The incident of blackmailing and kidnapping for ransom came to light last month. The victims were deprived of foreign currency and around Rs15 million in the form of online currency Bitcoin.

A case was registered at Race Course Police Station against Rana Irfan Mahmood and his unidentified accomplices.

According to the FIR, Swiss national Maria Spari and German citizen Stephen came to Lahore on February 10 on invitation of Irfan, a resident of Lahore, to review investment prospects in the country.

The foreigners stayed at a well-known hotel on The Mall road. They were taken by the suspect in a hotel car for sightseeing.

During the travel, Irfan sent back the hotel car and took the foreigners with him in two private vehicles.

Further along the way, unidentified suspects including three men in police uniform in a vehicle with a blue light stopped the cars and searched them.

According to the report, Stephen was forced out of the car and the suspects allegedly poured heroin on his clothes. The victims were then blindfolded and taken to a place where the suspects threatened to register a drug smuggling case against them, warning that they would face the death penalty.

The intimidated foreigners paid 6,300 euros in cash and also made an online transfer of 1.8 Bitcoins worth Rs14.7 million to the accused through laptops. A fake media team also made a video of the victims and the suspects demanded an additional Rs300 million for not sharing it.

According to SSP Investigation Abdul Ghaffar Qaisrani, the case is the first of its kind in Pakistan and poses a big challenge for the police. Initially, the police got the data of the main suspect, including his passport and mobile phone numbers along with other details.

The information gathered during the investigation showed that the suspect was already acquainted with both the foreigners and had been doing business with them regularly.

Irfan was assisted by a friend from Kohat who has been arrested. The man provided rented vehicles and also sent an accomplice posing as a police constable for the crime. The police have seized the vehicles and a driver of the car rental service. CCTV footage of the incident has also been obtained.

The official said the prime suspect had flown to Germany on the day after the crime and assistance of Interpol was being sought for arresting him. Both the foreigners were taken to an outhouse and the owner of the place, identified as Imran, has been arrested.

The police official said the suspect had revealed that his accomplice posing as a policeman was a jail warden.

The police brought the matter to the notice of the jail authorities and took three people into custody. During the interrogation, the suspect revealed that the jail warden had also beaten the foreigners.

According to the SSP investigation, the police have recovered all the amount paid to the facilitator. However, the amount cryptocurrency has been transferred to another account and the assistance of intelligence agencies is being sought for its recovery, the official added.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 7th, 2021.

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