Couple arrested over $19 million bitcoin scam in Philippines

Updated 12 April 2018

Couple arrested over $19 million bitcoin scam in Philippines

  • Authorities and experts warn of 'high risk' of investing in cryptocurrencies .
  • “Glowing reviews and optimistic projections have been heaped on the Philippine economy, particularly regarding its financial system.

MANILA: Philippine authorities have warned the public to be wary of the criminal use of cryptocurrencies after the arrest of a couple for allegedly defrauding more than 100 people who poured at least 1 billion Philippine pesos (more than $19 million) into their bitcoin investment scam.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) earlier this week presented Arnel Ordonio and his wife, Leonady — the registered owners of NewG Bitcoin Trading, which was allegedly involved in cryptocurrency trading — to the media. The couple, both in their 20s, were arrested by the PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) last April 4 after an entrapment operation.

The suspects actively promoted NewG through social media and convinced people to invest with the promise that they would get large guaranteed returns on their money in the span of two weeks. 

Some of their victims, however, said that in December last year they began to sense that they had been duped after they were unable to contact the suspects, who by then had posted on social media that they could no longer issue a payout to investors. 

CIDG chief Director Roel B. Obusan told Arab News that complainants against the couple continue to arrive in their office, while others have reported them to the National Bureau of Investigation. “So this is really a large-scale scam,” he said.

Based on their initial assessment, Obusan said that the suspects had amassed up to 1.6 billion Philippine pesos. Some of their alleged victims have refused to file a formal affidavit of complaint. “So from those who gave their formal complaint, the money swindled by the suspects amounted to 900 million Philippine pesos,” Obusan said. 

For those considering joining the cryptocurrency craze, Obusan warned: “There’s no investment that can give that much (a very high profit). If the offer seems too good to be true (they better think twice).”

Stephen Cutler, a former US FBI anti-money laundering and financial crime expert, said the biggest advantage that bitcoin scammers had was the lack of knowledge on the part of victims, “which is the case with any fraud.”

“Bitcoin is a very complex technology and unfortunately many Filipinos, or many people around the world, are not taking the time to study and to understand what it’s all about. And so they’re getting involved in it thinking that it’s easy, that it can be another get-rich-quick scheme, and it’s not,” he told Arab News.

“I personally do not recommend that people have anything to do with bitcoin or any of the cryptocurrencies at this point in time because it is so new. The technology is still evolving and we just don’t know enough about it yet to make it safe,” he said.

“It is not well regulated in any country around the world” and when an investor loses money “there is no recourse to try to get their money back,” Cutler said. 

However he added that: “Bitcoin is definitely real.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Sonny Angara said that despite the country’s economic gains, there was a need to improve the financial literacy of Filipinos “to enable them to be a part of inclusive growth as well as equip them with skills that will protect them against scams.”

“Glowing reviews and optimistic projections have been heaped on the Philippine economy, particularly regarding its financial system. Opportunities abound on account of these developments but many Filipinos do not even have a basic grasp of economic and financial concepts,” Angara said.

According to the senator, the recent discovery of the Ordonios’ fraudulent bitcoin investments only illustrates that Filipinos are  lacking in financially literacy as they are still falling prey to schemes that promise huge returns in a short span of time.

“This is not the first time that we have seen scams that have victimized our hapless kababayan (citizens) whose only intention is to earn legitimate income for their families. Their lack of knowledge of the financial system and investment, however, will only continue the cycle of victimization if we do not address this,” Angara said.

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), or central bank, in an infographic distributed for the public, highlighted that “virtual currencies  (VCs) are not legal tender in the Philippines since they are not issued nor guaranteed by the BSP or any government authority.”

“The BSP does not license VCs nor endorse VC as a currency or investment instrument,” it said.

Police official: Short-circuit likely caused Notre Dame fire

Updated 47 min 13 sec ago

Police official: Short-circuit likely caused Notre Dame fire

  • Authorities have said Notre Dame was in danger of going up in flames before fire crews stopped it from spreading into a tower belfry

PARIS: Paris police investigators think an electrical short-circuit most likely caused the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral, a police official said Thursday as France paid a daylong tribute to the firefighters who saved the world-renowned landmark.
A French judicial police official told The Associated Press that investigators made an initial assessment of the cathedral Wednesday but don’t have a green light to search Notre Dame’s charred interior because of ongoing safety hazards.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak by name about an ongoing investigation, said the cathedral’s fragile walls were being shored up with wooden planks.
Earlier in the afternoon, French President Emmanuel Macron held a ceremony at the Elysee Palace to thank the hundreds of firefighters who battled the fast-moving for nine hours starting Monday evening. Authorities have said Notre Dame, which dates from the 12th century, was in danger of going up in flames before fire crews stopped it from spreading into a tower belfry.
Fire responders also rescued many of the important relics and works of art inside the cathedral.
“We’ve seen before our eyes the right things perfectly organized in a few moments, with responsibility, courage, solidarity and a meticulous organization,” Macron said. “The worst has been avoided.”
Macron said the firefighters will receive an Honor Medal for their courage and devotion.
As the ceremony took place, investigators continued seeking clues to what sparked the fire. The huge cathedral, including the spire that was consumed by flames and collapsed, was in the initial stages of a lengthy restoration.
Investigators so far believe the fire was accidental, and are questioning both cathedral staff and workers who were carrying out renovations. Some 40 people had been questioned by Thursday, according the Paris prosecutor’s office.
Fire officials warned that the building remains unstable and extremely dangerous, including for the construction workers who rushed to secure an area above one of the rose-shaped windows and other vulnerable sections of the fire-damaged structure.
Workers using a crane were removing some statues to lessen the weight on the cathedral’s fragile gables, or support walls, and to keep them from falling, since the section lacked the support of the massive timber roof that burned up in the devastating blaze.
Police, citing “important risks” of collapse and falling objects, officially closed Thursday a large swath of the island in the Seine River on which Notre Dame sits. The area had been unofficially blocked off since the fire.
Paris City Hall also was holding a ceremony in the firefighters’ honor Monday afternoon, with a Bach violin concert, two giant banners strung from the monumental city headquarters and readings from Victor Hugo’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
Remarkably, no one was killed in the fire, which began during a Mass, after firefighters and church officials speedily evacuated those inside.
Among the firefighters honored Thursday was Paris fire brigade chaplain Jean-Marc Fournier, who says he was falsely credited with helping salvage the crown of thorns believed to have been worn by Jesus at his crucifixion.
The chaplain said a team of rescuers broke the relic’s protective covering and an official who had the secret code to unlock the protection finished the job. Fournier told France Info on Thursday that his own team arrived on the heels of the salvaging and praised the action “to preserve this extraordinary relic, this patrimony of humanity.”
However, Fournier told the daily Le Parisian that he himself was able to save the most precious thing for Catholics from the fire, the cathedral’s consecrated hosts. The paper said he climbed on altars to remove large paintings, but that he felt especially proud of another personal salvaging operation: “to have removed Jesus” from the Cathedral.
For Catholics, consecrated hosts are the body of Christ.
Among others honored was Myriam Chudzinski, one of the first firefighters to reach the roof as the blaze raged. Loaded with gear, they climbed hundreds of steps up the cathedral’s narrow spiral staircase to the top of one of the two towers. She had trained at the site for hours for just this moment.
“We knew that the roof was burning, but we didn’t really know the intensity,” she told reporters. “It was from upstairs that you understood that it was really dramatic. It was very hot and we had to retreat, retreat. It was spreading quickly.”
The building would have burned to the ground in a “chain-reaction collapse” had firefighters not moved as rapidly as they did to battle the blaze racing through the building, José Vaz de Matos, a fire expert with France’s Culture Ministry, said Wednesday.
An initial fire alert was sounded at 6:20 p.m., as a Mass was underway in the cathedral, but no fire was found. A second alarm went off at 6:43 p.m., and the blaze was discovered already consuming the roof.
Macron wants to rebuild the cathedral within five years — in time for the 2024 Summer Olympics that Paris is hosting — but experts say the vast scale of the work to be done could easily take 15 years, since it will take months, even years, just to figure out what should be done. Nearly $1 billion has been pledged for the cathedral’s restoration.
Benedicte Contamin, who came to view the damaged cathedral from afar Thursday, said she’s sad but grateful it’s still there.
“It’s a chance for France to bounce back, a chance to realize what unites us, because we have been too much divided over the past years,” she said.