KARACHI: A sessions court has indicted six Chinese nationals in cases pertaining to ATM-skimming fraud.
The six men — Zhang Qiaocheng, Zhong Showen, Liu Liming, Xiao Jianjun, Zhu Yu Ping and Zeng Chun You — have been booked and arrested for allegedly committing electronic crimes, fraud and forgery between 2016 and 2018.
District and Sessions Judge (south) Amjad Ali Bohio read out the charges against the accused. However, they pleaded not guilty and opted to contest the case.
The court summoned all prosecution witnesses to record their testimonies on the next date.
Earlier on July 10, 2018, then district and sessions judge Imdad Hussain had framed charges on all accused. However, when the incumbent judge took up the matter on July 31, he noted that from the perusal of the record and proceedings of the case it transpired that the charges framed by his predecessor did not mention the date and time of the offences and the case was proceeded on defective charges, which was required to be amended.
He observed that the error of not mentioning the date of the incident would in fact mislead the accused to defend their case and, therefore, framed the amended/altered charge against the detained foreigners after hearing arguments from both sides on this point.
In his arguments, defence counsel Ahmed Khoso submitted that witnesses had already deposed the date of the incident during their evidence and thus there was no need to alter or amend the charge. The charge could not be altered or amended after all the witnesses were examined by the court and the prosecution had rested its side, he added.
All the accused have denied charges and opted to contest the case
FIA’s Additional Director (legal) and special prosecutor Zakir Hussain Khan argued that the charge framed earlier without mentioning the date and time of the offence was defective and it would prejudice the accused in their defence as well as the prosecution in proving its case.
According to the amended charge, accused Zhang Qiaocheng and Zhong Shaowen were allegedly spotted in suspicious conditions around an ATM machine installed at an HBL branch on Abdullah Haroon Road for two days.
On Jan 10, 2018 FIA officials captured them at 8:15pm while trying to insert a skimming device at the said ATM machine by committing unauthorised access to the critical infrastructure information system with an intention to cause damage to the public property, it added.
Therefore, they committed an offence punishable under Section 13 (electronic forgery) of the Prevention of Electronic Crime Act (PECA), 2016 read with Section 420 (cheating or dishonestly inducing delivery of property) of the Pakistan Penal Code, said the amended charge.
It added that on a lead provided by the held accused the FIA officials also recovered 102 blank debit/credit cards, a union pay card, a 16 gigabytes memory card from their room in a guesthouse in Khayaban-i-Tanzeem, Defence Housing Authority. Investigators also recovered a magnetic strip reader (MSR) writer, other equipment and passports, it added.
According to the amended charge, both the accused used the equipment to counterfeit the ATM cards/credit cards with dishonest intentions for unauthorised access to the information system or data to unauthorised copying or transmitting the data, thus committed an offence punishable under Sections 3 (unauthorised access to information system or data), 4 (unauthorised copying or transmission of data) of the PECA, 2016.
The accused also committed the offences of cyber terrorism and cheating to deceive any person punishable under Sections 5 (interference with information system or data), 6 (unauthorised access to critical infrastructure information system or data), 7 (unauthorised copying or transmission of critical infrastructure data), 10(a) (cyber terrorism) and 14 (unauthorised use of identity information) of the PECA, 2016, it added.
According to the prosecution, the management of the HBL filed a complaint stating that over Rs10 million had been stolen from 559 of its customers’ accounts through bogus ATMs, credit and debit cards. The transactions had been traced to Indonesia, China and other countries, it added.
It alleged that the accused tried to escape but the area people caught them, adding that an ATM-skimming device was allegedly recovered from their possession. Both the suspects had arrived in Pakistan on Jan 2, 2018 on business visas.
In an identical case, in June 2016, two Chinese nationals were arrested for allegedly stealing data from a private bank with skimming devices at one of its ATM facilities.
The bank had reported to the FIA about suspicious activity of two foreigners at their Plaza Square branch. The FIA claimed to have recovered some electronic equipment, two skimming devices, each having a 16GB memory card, Chinese passports and identity cards of the suspects and different cards of Chinese banks.
Later, the accused moved applications in court stating that the investigating officer of the FIA’s cybercrime cell had failed to further proceed with the matter. Subsequently, the matter was still pending trial since no significant progress was made by the prosecution, they added in their pleas.
It was stated that the maximum punishment for the offences was three-year imprisonment, but they already spent around one-and-a-half year in jail since their arrest.
They further stated that they opted to plead guilty and asked to the court to order their release by considering the period of their sentences as already undergone from the date of their detention in prison. However, they withdrew the applications later.
Published in Dawn, August 26th, 2019