Malaysia-based romance scammers who duped Hongkongers out of HK$30 million arrested

Two men and two women said to have swindled cash after striking up relationships online, held after raid on alleged operation centre


Local and Malaysian police have busted a Kuala Lumpur-based syndicate that they say duped 48 Hong Kong women and one elderly man out of HK$29.5 million since January in online romance scams.

One victim lost HK$6 million to a con artist pretending to be a British engineer.
The alleged ringleader of the transnational racket was among two Nigerian men, a Nigerian woman and an Indian woman picked up during a raid on their operational centre in the Malaysian capital on October 24.

And in Hong Kong, police arrested five local women whose bank accounts were suspected to have been used to transfer the scammed cash to accounts in Malaysia and Taiwan. They were arrested for money laundering and obtaining property by deception and released on bail pending further investigation.

Sources said the women were initially scam targets themselves. But when the con artists failed to get money from them, they used their accounts to filter the cash instead. Police were looking into whether the women knew the money was criminal proceeds.
Two men were also arrested in the city in connection with the swindle.


Romance scams involve criminals striking up online relationships with people under false pretences, often over several months. Once they have gained their victim’s trust, they make up a false reason to ask them for money.

Scams of this kind snared 142 people in the city in the first nine months of this year, netting HK$78 million, according to police figures. That is almost 100 percent up on the 72 cases in the same period last year, which netted HK$57 million.

A lawyer, teacher and doctors were understood to have been among the Kuala Lumpur syndicate’s victims, who were mostly aged between 40 and 50.
The biggest loser was a senior executive at a local company, who was conned out of HK$6 million in nearly 20 transactions over six months.

“The scammer, disguised as an engineer from the UK, befriended her via an online dating platform in January,” one police source said. “He claimed he ran into financial problems and needed money urgently and then borrowed money from the victim.”

The victim realised it was a scam after she lost contact with him in June.
A 77-year-old man lost HK$4,500 to a similar scam.

After weeks of exchanging messages with what he thought was an American woman, the victim was lured into sending her HK$4,500 to buy a gift, according to police. He too realised it was a scam when the messages dried up. Officers said he was the oldest known victim of a romance scam.

According to police, the gang was headed by one of the arrested Nigerian men, 33, working with his two compatriots, 29 and 38, and the Indian woman. They ran the scams out of a flat in Kuala Lumpur.
During the raid on the flat, officers found love messages on computers and mobile phones.
Officers from Hong Kong’s cybersecurity and technology crime bureau sought help from Malaysian police to investigate the syndicate earlier this year after signs that some of the scammed cash was transferred to bank accounts in the country.


“The three core members found targets through online dating platforms and used emails and instant phone messages to contact victims,” another source said.
He said scammers usually pretended to be men from the UK or America, claiming to be professionals, businessmen, soldiers or retired.

“They used different excuses to cheat, but they never met their victims in person,” the source said, adding that the gang targeted more than 100 women in Asian countries such as Japan and South Korea.

Police believed the gang had been in operation since January.

That would be soon after Hong Kong, Malaysian and Nigerian police jointly smashed another syndicate based in Malaysia in December 2016. That group, headed by a Nigerian man and his Malaysian girlfriend, duped 73 Hong Kong women out of HK$58 million from 2014.

Chief Inspector Hui Yee-wai of the cybersecurity and technology crime bureau said the prevalence of social media and the increasing number of online dating platforms were partly behind the surge in the number of romance scams on the web.

She warned online love-seekers that “people you meet online might not be who you think they are,” and urged them to make sure to keep an eye on their privacy settings.



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Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal arrested: Billionaire tycoon knows as proponent of Saudi modernisation, critic of Donald Trump

Billionaire prince with stakes in Twitter, Apple among those arrested in Saudi sweep

Prince Alwaleed bin Talal

Saudi Arabia has arrested dozens of princes and former government ministers, including a well-known billionaire with extensive holdings in Western companies, as part of a sweeping anti-corruption probe, further cementing King Salman and his crown prince son’s control of the kingdom.

A high-level employee at Prince Alwaleed bin Talal’s Kingdom Holding Company told The Associated Press that the royal was among those detained overnight on Saturday. The employee said he received calls from several security bodies notifying him of the arrest. The employee spoke on condition of anonymity due to fear of repercussions.

The Associated Press reached out overnight to Kingdom Holding for comment. There was no response as of Sunday morning.

Prince Alwaleed is one of the Middle East’s richest people, with investments in Twitter, Apple, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., Citigroup, and the Four Seasons, Fairmont and Movenpick hotel chains. He is also an investor in ride-sharing services Lyft and Careem, both competitors to Uber in the U.S. and the Middle East, respectively.

The prince, often pictured on his multimillion-dollar 85.65-metre (281 foot) superyacht in the Mediterranean, is also known for being among the most outspoken Saudi royals, long advocating for women’s rights. He is also the majority owner of the popular Rotana Group of Arabic channels.

Official state media have not reported on the arrests, but the kingdom’s top council of clerics issued a statement saying it is an Islamic duty to fight corruption essentially giving religious backing to the high-level arrests being reported.

The Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya satellite news channel reported that at least 11 princes and dozens of former ministers had been detained in the probe launched by a new anti-corruption committee. The committee is led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Saudi Twitter accounts released names of several high-ranking princes, including a prominent and powerful son of the late King Abdullah, Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, who was removed from his post as head of the National Guard overnight.

The arrests came as Lebanon’s Prime Minister, a close Saudi ally, announced his own resignation from the Saudi capital. Yemeni rebels, the target of a 2-year Saudi-led military campaign, meanwhile fired a ballistic missile toward Riyadh’s international airport on Saturday night that was intercepted by Saudi air defence before it could cause any damage.

Al-Arabiya reported that the anti-graft committee is looking into deadly floods that overwhelmed parts of the city of Jiddah in 2009 and the government’s response to the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) virus that has killed several hundred people in the past few years.

Reports also suggested those detained were being held in the Ritz Carlton in Riyadh, which only days earlier hosted a major investment conference. The phone number for the hotel had been disconnected by Sunday morning and a Dubai-based spokeswoman for the hotel chain did not respond to a request for comment.

The government said the anti-corruption committee has the right to issue arrest warrants, impose travel restrictions and freeze bank accounts. It can also trace funds, prevent the transfer of funds or the liquidation of assets, and take other precautionary measures until cases are referred to the judiciary.

The royal order said the committee was established “due to the propensity of some people for abuse, putting their personal interest above public interest, and stealing public funds.”

Long-standing complaint of corruption


Saudi nationals have long complained of rampant corruption in government and of public funds being squandered or misused by people in power.

Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, a research fellow at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, said the scale of the arrests is designed to further smooth the young crown prince’s eventual succession to the throne.

“As a leader who is set to remain in power for decades, Mohammed bin Salman is remaking the kingdom in his own image and signalling a potentially significant move away from the consensual balancing of competing interests that characterized Saudi rule in the past,” Ulrichsen said.

Prince Miteb was replaced by a lesser known royal, Prince Khalid bin Ayyaf al-Muqrin, who had held a senior post with the National Guard.

Prince Miteb’s father the late King Abdullah also had led the National Guard and had transformed it into a powerful and prestigious force tasked with protecting the ruling Al Saud family, as well as important holy sites in Mecca and Medina, and oil and gas sites.

Prince Miteb was once considered a contender for the throne. His ouster essentially sidelines one of the most formidable rivals to the current crown prince, who is also defence minister. Just three months ago, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef was ousted from the line of succession and from his post as interior minister, overseeing internal security.

Only hours earlier, Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri resigned from his post in a televised address from Riyadh, offering a vicious tirade against Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah group for what he said was their meddling in Arab affairs.

“Iran’s arms in the region will be cut off,” Hariri said.

Saudi Arabia then said its forces intercepted a ballistic missile fired by Iran-backed rebels in Yemen toward one of the kingdom’s major international airports on the outskirts of Riyadh. A Saudi-led coalition launched a war against the Houthi rebels and their allies in March 2015 that grinds on today, a campaign overseeing by Crown Prince Mohammed.

The missile fire drew an immediate rebuke from President Donald Trump, who blamed Iran in part for the attack.

“A shot was just taken by Iran, in my opinion, at Saudi Arabia. And our system knocked it down,” Trump said, referring to the Patriot missile batteries Saudi Arabia has purchased from the U.S. “That’s how good we are. Nobody makes what we make and now we’re selling it all over the world.”

It’s unclear if the U.S. had any advance word of the coming arrests. Trump’s son-in-law and White House adviser Jared Kushner and others made an unannounced trip recently to Riyadh. Trump earlier Saturday said he spoke to King Salman about listing the kingdom’s massive state-run oil company, Saudi Aramco, in the United States.



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Paradise Papers: Leak unveils US commerce chief, UK queen's offshore investments

Leaks show US commerce chief, UK queen’s offshore investments 

Wilbur Ross

WASHINGTON: US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has business ties to a shipping firm linked to Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, according to a vast leak of financial documents that also revealed Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II’s investments in tax havens.

It was also revealed that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s top fundraiser and senior advisor Stephen Bronfman, heir to the Seagram fortune, moved some US$60 million to offshore tax havens with ex-senator Leo Kolber.

The findings have emerged as part of the Paradise Papers released by the US-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which was behind the Panama Papers made public last year.

There is no suggestion that Ross, Bronfman or the queen’s private estate acted illegally.

But Ross’s ties to Russian entities raise questions over potential conflicts of interest, and whether they undermine Washington’s sanctions on Moscow.

The revelations about Bronfman could spell trouble for Trudeau, who was elected two years ago riding on the coattails of promises to reduce economic inequality and tax avoidance.

In the case of Queen Elizabeth’s private estate, critics may question whether it is appropriate for the British head of state to invest in offshore tax havens.


Putin’s son-in-law


Ross, a billionaire investor, holds a 31% stake in Navigator Holdings through a complex web of offshore investments detailed in the documents examined by nearly 100 news organizations as part of an international collaboration.

The 79-year-old reduced his stake when he took public office, according to public filings.

Navigator Holdings runs a lucrative partnership with Russian energy giant Sibur, which is partially owned by Putin’s son-in-law Kirill Shamalov and Gennady Timchenko, the Russian president’s friend and business partner who is subject to US sanctions.

The US imposed sanctions on Russian entities and individuals following its annexation of Crimea and aggression in Ukraine.

Ross’s private equity firm has been the biggest shareholder in Navigator.

His personal share of the firm’s stake was reduced when he took office in February, but the commerce chief’s investment is still valued at between $2 million to $10 million, according to his security filings and government ethics disclosure.

The New York Times reported that Ross’s stake in Navigator has been held by companies in the Cayman Islands. His wealth, estimated to exceed $2 billion, is said to be tied to similar arrangements in various tax havens like the Cayman Islands.

“Secretary Ross was not involved with Navigator’s decision to engage in business with Sibur, a publicly traded company, which was not under sanction at the time and is not currently,” said James Rockas, a Commerce Department spokesman.

“Moreover, Secretary Ross has never met the Sibur shareholders referenced in this story and, until now, did not know of their relationship.”

Queen Elizabeth

Controversial businesses


The documents also show around £10 million ($13 million) of the Queen’s private money was placed in funds held in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda, first reported in Britain by the BBC and the Guardian newspaper.

They reported the funds reinvested the money in an array of businesses, including controversial rent-to-buy retailer BrightHouse, which has been accused of exploiting the poor, and a chain of alcohol stores that later went bankrupt.

A spokeswoman for the Duchy of Lancaster, which provides the monarch with an income and handles her investments, said: “All of our investments are fully audited and legitimate.”

“We operate a number of investments and a few of these are with overseas funds,” she added.

The spokeswoman added that one of the fund investments represents only 0.3% of the total value of the Duchy.

The Paradise Papers contain 13.4 million documents mainly from Appleby, an offshore law firm with offices in Bermuda and beyond.

The files were first obtained by the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung, and shared with the ICIJ and partner media outlets.


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At least 26 people killed after Texas church shooting

Texas shooting: Armed with assault rifle, man kills 26 in Sutherland Springs church; suspect Devin Kelley 'found dead' in vehicle

Law enforcement officials work the scene of a fatal shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. 

Sutherland Springs (Texas): A man dressed in black tactical-style gear and armed with an assault rifle opened fire inside a church in a small South Texas community on Sunday, killing 26 people and wounding about 20 others in what the governor called the deadliest mass shooting in the state's history.

Officials didn't identify the attacker during a news conference Sunday night, but two other officials - one a US official and one in law enforcement - who were briefed on the investigation identified him as Devin Kelley. They spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the investigation.

Kelley killed 26 people in what is the worst mass shooting in Texas history.

The US official said Kelley lived in a San Antonio suburb and doesn't appear to be linked to organized terrorist groups. The official said investigators are looking at social media posts Kelley may have made in the days before Sunday's attack, including one that appeared to show an AR-15 semiautomatic weapon.
Kelley posted this picture of a gun on Facebook recently.

At the news conference, Freeman Martin, the regional director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said the attacker was dressed all in black, wearing tactical gear and a ballistic vest, when he arrived at a gas station across from the First Baptist Church at around 11.20 am.

He crossed the street and started firing a Ruger AR rifle at the church, and continued after entering the building. As he left, he was confronted by an armed resident who chased him. A short time later, the suspect was found dead in his vehicle at the county line, Martin said. There were several weapons inside.

Martin said it's unclear if the attacker died of a self-inflicted wound or if he was shot by the resident who confronted him. He said investigators weren't ready to discuss a possible motive for the attack. He said the dead ranged in age from 5 to 72 years old. Twenty-three were found dead in the church, two were found outside and one died after being taken to a hospital.

Federal law enforcement swarmed the small community 30 miles southeast of San Antonio after the attack to offer assistance, including ATF investigators and members of the FBI's evidence collection team.

Among those killed was the 14-year-old daughter of the church's pastor, Frank Pomeroy, and his wife, Sherri. Sherri Pomeroy wrote in a text message to the AP that she and her husband were out of town in two different states when the attack occurred.

"We lost our 14-year-old daughter today (Sunday) and many friends," she wrote. "Neither of us have made it back into town yet to personally see the devastation. I am at the Charlotte airport trying to get home as soon as I can."

The wounded were taken to hospitals. Video on KSAT television showed first responders taking a stretcher from the church to a waiting AirLife helicopter. Eight victims were taken by medical helicopter to the Brooke Army Medical Center, the military hospital said.

Megan Posey, a spokeswoman for Connally Memorial Medical Center, which is in Floresville and about 10 miles from the church, said "multiple" victims were being treated for gunshot wounds. She declined to give a specific number but said it was less than a dozen.

The scene outside First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, near San Antonio, Texas, where a mass shooting took place
Alena Berlanga, a Floresville resident who was monitoring the chaos on a police scanner and in Facebook community groups, said everyone knows everyone else in the sparsely populated county. Sutherland Springs has only a few hundred residents.

"This is horrific for our tiny little tight-knit town," said Alena Berlanga. "Everybody's going to be affected and everybody knows someone who's affected," she said.

Regina Rodriguez arrived at the church a couple of hours after the shooting and walked up to the police barricade. She hugged a person she was with. She had been at an amusement park with her children when she heard of the shooting.

She said her father, 51-year-old Richard Rodriguez, attends the church every Sunday, and she hadn't been able to reach him. She said she feared the worst.

Nick Uhlig, 34, is a church member who didn't go Sunday morning because he was out late Saturday night. He said his cousins were at the church and that his family was told at least one of them, a woman with three children and pregnant with another, is among the dead. He said he hadn't heard specific news about the other.

Texas church massacre victim Annabelle Pomeroy pictured with her father, Pastor of the church, Frank

"We just gathered to bury their grandfather on Thursday," he said. "This is the only church here. We have Bible study, men's Bible study, vacation Bible school."

"Somebody went in and started shooting," he said, shaking his head and taking a long drag of his cigarette.

President Donald Trump tweeted from Japan, where is his on an Asian trip, that he was monitoring the situation. Texas governor Greg Abbott called the shooting an "evil act."

Annabele Pomeroy, the 14-year-old daughter of First Baptist pastor Frank Pomeroy

Sutherland Springs is in a rural area where communities are small and tight-knit. The area is known for its annual peanut festival in Floresville, which was most recently held last month.

"We're shocked. Shocked and dismayed," said state Senator Judith Zaffirini, a Laredo Democrat whose district includes Sutherland Springs. "It's especially shocking when it's such a small, serene area. These rural areas, they are so beautiful and so loving."

Zaffirini said she had called several county and local officials but not been able to get through and didn't have any firm details.

The church is a white, wood-framed building with a double-door at the entrance and a Texas flag on a pole at the front area. A morning worship service was scheduled for 11 am. The first news reports of the shooting were between noon and 12.30 pm.

The church has posted videos of its Sunday services on a YouTube channel, raising the possibility that the shooting was captured on video.

In the most recent service, posted 29 October, Frank Pomeroy parked a motorcycle in front of his lectern and used it as a metaphor in his sermon for having faith in forces that can't be seen, whether it be gravity or God.

"I don't look at the moment, I look at where I'm going and look at what's out there ahead of me," Pomeroy said. "I'm choosing to trust in the centripetal forces and the things of God he's put around me."



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Lebanon’s president will not accept the resignation of Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri

Lebanese president won’t accept PM’s resignation until he returns


BEIRUT: Lebanon’s president will not accept the resignation of Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri until he returns to Lebanon, palace sources said on Sunday, delaying for now politically difficult consultations on his successor.

Hariri left Lebanon for Saudi Arabia on Friday and resigned on Saturday in a televised statement that took the Lebanese political establishment by surprise.

He cited an assassination plot against him and criticised the regional role of Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah, however, Lebanon’s army said on Sunday it had not uncovered any plot.
A resignation would thrust Lebanon back into the arena of regional rivalry between Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia, an ally of Hariri, and Shi‘ite Muslim Iran, which backs Hezbollah.

President Michel Aoun, a political ally of Hezbollah, will wait to accept or reject Hariri’s resignation until he returns to Lebanon to explain his reasons, sources at the presidential palace said.
Saudi-owned newspaper Asharq al-Awsat cited unnamed sources close to Hariri as speculating that he would probably remain outside Lebanon because of the security threat against him.

Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh sought to calm fears the political turmoil unleashed by Hariri’s bid to resign would hit Lebanon’s already fragile economy, issuing a statement to reaffirm the stability of its currency, which is pegged against the US dollar.

In Lebanon’s sectarian system the president must be a Maronite Catholic, the prime minister a Sunni and the speaker of parliament a Shi‘ite. Hariri is Lebanon’s most influential Sunni politician.
His father, Rafik al-Hariri, was prime minister after Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war and was assassinated in a car bombing in 2005.

A UN-backed tribunal has indicted five Hezbollah members for the killing but the group denies any involvement.

Saudi media have published reports of a plot to assassinate Hariri in recent days, but all of Lebanon’s main security branches have said they have no information about such a plot.

A Saudi minister said on Saturday that Hariri’s personal security detail had “confirmed information” about the plot. Thamer al-Sabhan said in an interview with a Lebanese TV station on Saturday that there are “threats against the prime minister and the Kingdom is keen for his security



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