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Alleged organizer of cryptocurrency fraud flees Kurdistan Region, say victims

(File/AFP)
PM:03:27:28/07/2021

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SULAIMANI — Leaving a trail of misery in his wake, a man accused of helping to organize a multi-million dollar cryptocurrency fraud in the Kurdistan Region and Iraq has fled abroad, sources told NRT.

Touting himself as the Asia Director for Praetorian Group International (PGI), Bako Faisal allegedly organized a fraudulent scheme from an office in Erbil that solicited money from people in the Kurdistan Region, promising to invest in cryptocurrency transactions that would yield large returns.

According to multiple sources, Faisal and his associates may have defrauded more than 3,000 people in Iraq of upwards of $40 million.

"Only the leaders and insiders will know the real figures," Abdurrahman Bapir, an entrepreneur and founder of cryptocurrency brokerage and analysis service Kurdcoin, told NRT.

One of the victims of the PGI scheme, who NRT is not naming at their request, said that he gave Faisal $37,000 to invest in cryptocurrency with the promise that his investment would double in just six months.

"But the company did not return any money to us for four months," the investor said.

At that point, Faisal fled the Kurdistan Region, reportedly to the UK.

Some of his victims have begun organizing a legal complaint against Faisal and an associate named Dustan Kamaran that they plan to file in a court in Erbil, but police have not yet said whether they have launched an investigation.

Fraud schemes are common in the Kurdistan Region, which lacks a modern banking system and no effective consumer protection regime. Moreover, financial literacy remains low for many members of the public, who are used to simple cash transactions.

Bapir said that the dangers associated with the PGI scheme were "so obvious."

"I am baffled people would buy into it…[but] we often underestimate the leaders and people in charge of these schemes in their ability to recruit and incentivize others," he added.

Last winter, accused fraudster Suleiman Halshoy was arrested on charges of defrauding more than 1,000 people of tens of millions of dollars in the Raparin administration using a Ponzi scheme. He remains in custody pending trial.

One method that Halshoy used to convince his victims that he could bring a sizable return on their investments was to claim that he was using cryptocurrency, though there is no evidence that he was doing so.

Bapir told NRT that part of Kurdcoin’s activities is to spread awareness about fraud, regularly posting messages on social media with information about how people can protect themselves.

Warning people in the Kurdistan Region against investing in investments that seem too good to be true, Kurdcoin said in one post that "only those who are above the pyramid will benefit from it, but most people will lose their money."

It is not clear whether Faisal will face any legal consequences for the alleged fraud since he is no longer in the Kurdistan Region.

PGI’s website has since shuttered and its employees were unreachable for comment.

As a result, others are left to face the consequences, with the investor who spoke to NRT saying that the victims are experiencing "social problems."

"Many citizens have been harmed because of the company," they said.

(NRT Digital Media)