Asgar Ali, the man who has courted controversies for his covert activities. (Photo: Ali's Facebook)
KATHMANDU: Prime Minister KP Oli’s IT consultant, Asgar Ali, who has courted controversies while making several murky deals, has several identities. He has a notorious record from carrying out activities related to collecting information illegally to working covertly for illegal operation of Bitcoin.
Considered shrewd in making clandestine and behind-the-scene dealings, Ali, after getting privileged as PM Oli’s IT consultant, has been executing his illegal business ranging from collecting information illegally to hacking news portals — all done taking advantage of the closeness with the ailing PM.
Security sources claim activities like data hoarding by unscrupulous people like Ali may compromise individual privacy for monetary gains and the authoritarian regime could misuse it for mass surveillance.
Ali’s company has used the same server and the same IP from the PM’s office to banks and other organizations while grabbing most of the IT contracts of the government.
Sources claim that most of Ali’s companies are involved in the contract of more than Rs 20 billion besides involving in illegal transactions with alien forces, mainly China, to capture the digital domain.
“Ali, most likely, has some connection with the Chinese and the controversial Huawei Company,” the source said adding that Ali’s trade and business soared to a new height immediately after he was appointed PM Oli’s IT Consultant.
A senior army official, who insisted anonymity, said such activities, including China’s covert involvement, endanger national security.
Meanwhile, experts claim that while even most of the countries of the world are yet to begin 5G service, Ali has been making covert China-backed initiation to introduce it in Nepal in an effort to provide the steering to the Chinese controversial Huawei company to control Nepal’s communication system.
A few years back in 2016, Ali, also the CEO of e-Sewa, an online payment gateway, was found stealing information from the government portals illegally and for his personal benefit. Moreover, he was found giving undue pressure to the government authorities and collect highly sensitive and personal details of the public.
Ali’s office offered amnesty in Bitcoin transaction
His online payment gateway, e-Sewa was found involved in the illegal promotion of Bitcoin transaction, the transaction Nepal Rastra Bank regarded illegally operated.
However, using his closeness to PM Oli, Ali managed to get redemption from it influencing Nepal Rastra Bank, the Central Investigation Bureau of Nepal Police and the Office of the District Attorney, Kathmandu.
According to highly-placed security sources, the investigation, the verdict of the alleged and other evidence established that the illegal transaction of Bitcoin was carried out via e-Sewa.
Making fun of the legal provisions, the authority assigned to investigate the allegations and proceed with the case ahead presented CEO Ali as an official witness on behalf of the government and granted amnesty.
“Although Ali himself was one of the prospective alleged in the case, against the theory of natural justice, the office of the District Attorney presented him as the government witness,” an investigation official remarked.
The official added that generally, in such cases of illegal financial transactions, the payment company and its officials are booked for inquiry.
“However, in this Bitcoin case, the officials involved in the investigation and prosecution of this case have ignored this fundamental principle,” said an official insisting anonymity.
One of the police officials involved in the investigation of the case complained that it was not fair to take the investigation and prosecution procedure ahead just on the verdict of Ali, who should have been treated as the alleged in this case.
“Although e-Sewa should have been prosecuted, we could not take the case ahead as Ali was presented as the official expert,” he said, adding, “It is not only wrong but is against the principle of natural justice that the prospective alleged is presented as the witness from the suing side, i.e. the court.”
Legal eagles regard it as the utmost negligence and violation of the principle of natural justice.
“It’s wrong to assign the person who should have been presented before the court as alleged as the expert on the same case,” Senior Advocate Dinesh Tripathi said.
“The person to be presented as an expert has to be someone who is independent and has no allegations on the related issues,” Tripathi added.
Thus, evidence hint at the fact that Asgar Ali is being offered amnesty deliberately diverting the issue and excusing allegations.
Nepali Army sources hint at the Chinese government’s direct involvement in the activities that Ali has been carrying out in Nepal.
Ali’s act of intimidation
Security sources claimed Ali also took to intimidating the chiefs of the Passport Department, Labor Department, Transport Department (including information of driving licenses), National Identity Card Management Center, Immigration Department and other government bodies seeking all data and other information.
Furthermore, he is also learned to have pressurized the authorities seeking details of the voters from the Election Commission, citizenship details from the Home Ministry, information from the Foreign Employment Department, the Central Registration Department, the National Identity Card Management Center, and other details from the departments under the Ministry of Communication and Information.
Meanwhile, acting on the basis of a complaint against Ali, the National Vigilance Center had written to the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers along with the original file seeking action against him.
Likewise, a case was filed against Ali at the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) alleging him of collecting secret information of the government bodies. However, despite sending a letter to the Prime Minister’s Office, no action was taken against him.
High-level security sources say Ali’s action has been an abuse of authority and citizen’s rights.
Citizen’s money at risk due to Ali
The software company F1 Soft, having Ali’s involvement, has made mobile banking app (application) for 48 banks and financial institutions.
Similarly, 22 out of the 27 commercial banks use software made by Ali’s company, which has made the popular Fonepay and e-Sewa applications. Fonepay has been used (for digital gateway) to transfer money from one bank to another. Likewise, e-Sewa has been popular as an e-wallet.
Bankers say they have given the responsibility of data hosting and collecting of customers’ details to Ali’s company because of which customers are worried about their privacy.
As what can be termed as an effort to gauge the risk, a digital probe carried out on the issue activities found out some startling facts. For instance, F1Soft International Pvt Ltd’s official website www.flsoft.com and other apps under it such as eSewa and Fonepay are hosted on the same server as that of used for hosting the website of Prime Minister Oli’s erstwhile party, the CPN-UML (cpnuml.org) and PM Oli’s official website kpsharmaoli.com.np. Sources said the websites F1soft.com and cpnuml.org use Cloudfare to mask their IPs.
Interestingly, the IP address of eSewa.com.np, promoted by F1soft International Pvt Ltd doesn’t route its IP through Cloudflare.
Moreover, investigations showed several domains were hosted on the same server. For instance: chakrapath.com (188.8.131.52); extensodata.com (184.108.40.206); f1soft.com (220.127.116.11); fonepay (18.104.22.168); gefont (22.214.171.124); shirantechnologies.com (126.96.36.199); digital2020nepal.org (188.8.131.52); esewaremit (184.108.40.206); f1softfoundation.org (220.127.116.11); fonecredit (18.104.22.168); globalimebank (22.214.171.124); kpsharmaoli.com.np (126.96.36.199); mahalaxmibank.com (188.8.131.52); nccbank.com.np (184.108.40.206); nepalbank.com.np (220.127.116.11); prediction.com (18.104.22.168); quickbhuktani.com (22.214.171.124); shirantechnologies.com (126.96.36.199); and smsfatafat.com (188.8.131.52).
Sources have to claim that all these establish the fact that the websites of kpsharmaoli.com.np; cpnuml.org; nepalbank.com.np; f1soft.com.np; fonepay.com; esewa.com.np; are connected to each other providing Ali unhindered access to Nepal’s banking system as well as data of Nepali citizens, warranting outcry from experts and common citizens alike.
Nepal Army sources claim that in a country like Nepal where internet penetration is only 60 percent coupled with limited digital literacy, lack of data security, such activity can pose a serious challenge.
The sources claimed that data hoarding by unscrupulous people like Ali may compromise individual privacy for monetary gains and the authoritarian regime could misuse it for mass surveillance.
4G extension lying stranded
Ali has left Nepal Telecom’s 4G expansion stranded. Although the contract was to finish the expansion task by mid-February, telecom officials claim hardly 65% of work has been completed to date.
Sources said the main character behind the delay is the PM’s advisor Ali. The slackness in the 4G expansion has resulted in the wide criticism of Nepal Telecom.
The task of Radio Access Network (RAN) was assigned to the Hong Kong-based CCSI Company and Core Network was assigned to the Chinese company ZTE on December 25, 2018.
Out of Rs 19 billion allocated for 4G expansion, Ali’s company bagged the contract worth Rs 17 billion whereas the remaining 2 billion rupees went to ZTE.
Although the task allocated to ZTE is 90% complete, CCSI, the company with Ali’s partnership has hardly completed 65% of the work.
Nepal Telecom has started making lame excuses in the name of coronavirus impact for the slackness in the 4G extension, but the truth is that there was no coronavirus impact in Nepal till the assigned period.
The Development and Technology Committee of the House of Representatives has directed the government to submit convincing causes for the slackness in the 4G service extension.
Nepal Telecom has named the task assigned to CCSI mentioned as Radio Access Network (RAN).
Although CCSI is documented as a Hong Kong-based company, this is Huawei’s own company. In this case, the company does the works related to tower, power and transmission.
The same company is doing tasks related to antenna and radio equipment. It is the company that has installed the low standard antenna marked ‘Made in China’ rather than the one marked ‘Made in America’.
Illegal transaction of foreign currency, Ali’s company worked unhindered
As per the provision in Nepal Rastra Bank Act 2002 and Foreign Exchange (Regulation) Act 1962, none can run foreign currency exchange transactions without getting the prior consent of the Nepal Rastra Bank.
However, e-Sewa, the company that has Ali as its CEO entertained special privilege on the ground of his position and access to power. He stood above law in this instance.
Incorporating some officials from Nepal Rastra Bank, Ali’s company continued the illegal transaction unrestricted.
E-Sewa is noticed to be carrying out an illegal transaction of foreign currency via Skrill, a London-based multi-national digital remittance company established in 2001. Skrill started the transaction of Bitcoin’s crypto-currency in 2018.
Skrill’s Nepal agent to provide US dollars via Bitcoin is e-Sewa.
The US dollar Skrill provides is arranged in such a way that the user can link it to the e-Sewa account via Skrill account.
After linking it this way, the user can get the US dollar deposited in Skrill account in Nepali rupees from e-Sewa. After that, the user can transfer that amount from their e-Sewa account to bank accounts in Nepal.
According to the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) of Nepal Police, e-Sewa is involved in misappropriation of foreign currency by carrying out the service via crypto-currency that also without taking prior consent from Nepal Rastra Bank.
It has to be sued for foreign currency misappropriation, causing national capital flight and affecting the national economy adversely.
It should be noted that Nepal has not permitted crypto-currency transactions to date.