x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

'Witchcraft' gang swindled Dh20,000 from victims

Abu Dhabi Police have arrested a five-member gang of professional beggars who allegedly swindled more than Dh20, 000 from victims.

ABU DHABI // Abu Dhabi Police have arrested a five-member gang of professional beggars who allegedly swindled more than Dh20, 000 from victims through begging and practising what was described as witchcraft. Police said the gang consisted of two married Arab couples and a woman, aged 23 to 33, who used their children, aged two to 10, to attract the sympathy of their targets. The gang's members have confessed to their crimes, police said, adding the gang transferred the Dh20,000 out of the UAE. One of the gang's members had entered the UAE illegally, police said.

Police learned of the gang while investigating a complaint made by an Emirati woman to an FM radio station. The woman complained of being a victim of fraud and begging and said she was approached by an Arab woman who said that her medical conditions were caused by witchcraft. The accused woman proposed to cure the woman through witchcraft for a fee, police said. Lt Col Ibrahim al Hanai, head of the police department's anti-organised-crime section, urged other victims of the gang file complaints.

Sheikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of the Interior, ordered that the children used in the scam be cared for and that the investigation be sped up. According to police, the women would wait outside jewellery and women's clothing stores and offer palm-reading services. Lt Col Hanai said their usual tactic was to tell their targets that they were under a spell that needed to be removed. They would demand large amounts of money to do it.

Police said the gang members would also enter shops and work in teams of two to get money from shoppers. One person distracted a shopper by showing them an item and then another would beg for money. One would then take the shopper's money while they were distracted. Police said the accused also went to hospitals where they would pretend to be sick and tell people they had lost their health cards. The gang members would ask for money and then attempt the palm-reading scam.

Col Maktoum Sharifi, director of the criminal investigation department, said that once police had been made aware of the complaint, he ordered an investigation team formed. Within 48 hours they had arrested one of the women accused, who was apprehended while reading the palms of an undercover officer. The captured woman led police to the rest of the gang. mchung@thenational.ae