OAG charges two in WhatsApp scam

A civil servant in Trashigang and an Indian businessman allegedly lured 13 Bhutanese through WhatsApp scam and collected Nu 849,000.

The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) charged the duo last week in Paro court.

The incident occurred between March and April last year and the amount was collected from the victims on the pretext of delivering WhatsApp lottery prizes.

Eight victims together allegedly deposited Nu 450,000 in three accounts that belonged to a civil servant, his sister, and his wife.  The Indian businessman allegedly collected Nu 399,000 using the bank accounts of three other Bhutanese.

Banks froze a total of Nu 215,000 from one of the accused during the investigation after police notification.

Police arrested six persons in connection to the crime last year.

Investigation began when on April 9, 2018 a shopkeeper from Bitekha, Paro reported to Paro police about a suspected scam on WhatsApp.

On evening of April 5, a shopkeeper in Bitekha, received a call from WhatsApp account. The person on the other end told him that he was a lucky winner of INR 2.5 million and was instructed to call a person called Ashok Kumar Bhandari on an Indian phone number.

Ashok Kumar Bhandari, the prime suspect in the scam who is still at large, confirmed that the shopkeeper or his WhatsApp number had won the lottery and the prizes including a BMW car had reached India. He was also told that if he did not wish to take the car, he would get INR 10 million in cash.

After sending the lottery documents, his own address and bank account details, Ashok Kumar Bhandari asked the shopkeeper to deposit Nu 10,000 as pin code charge in one of the two accounts with Bank of Bhutan or Bhutan National Bank Ltd.

When the amount was deposited, Ashok Kumar Bhandari called the shopkeeper to deposit Nu 25,000 to get the signature of the Indian prime minister. The shopkeeper asked to reduce it to Nu 10,000 and, suspecting something was amiss, verified the accounts with the banks. He asked the bank to stop the individual from withdrawing the amount he deposited and reported the matter to police.

Police interrogated the bank account holders and two Indian individuals from Phuentsholing and found that the bank account numbers were given when they sent fees to students studying in Delhi through one of the Indian men.

The 22-year-old Indian businessman from Jaigaon dealt in betel leaf business and currency exchange. He was well known to the bank account holders through their business interactions and gave him the account numbers.

The scam reportedly duped 12 more Bhutanese individuals.

While a man from Chukha deposited Nu 161,000, two individuals had deposited Nu 50,000 each. Two more individuals had deposited Nu 35,000 each.

Tshering Palden

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