By Meghna Bali and Benjamin Sveen | AUSTRALIA |
A cricket-loving Sydney socialite, an affluent man-about-town — that’s how Harpreet Singh Sahni portrayed himself.
His friends saw the 45-year-old rubbing shoulders with the likes of Tony Abbott, Julia Gillard, and Mike Baird, and they’d ask jokingly when he was running for preselection.
After 12 years in Australia, Mr Sahni had accumulated an abundance of business ventures: a security company, a real estate portfolio, and a side-hustle promoting concerts for major Indian acts, like Punjabi star Satinder Sartaaj’s performance at the Sydney Opera House.
Mr Sahni had also followed the 2017 cryptocurrency boom, noting how it created unbelievable wealth for early adopters of Bitcoin.
Keen to get in on the action, for the next two years he ran the Australian operations of an international venture selling a new cryptocurrency.
But the scheme was a scam — something Mr Sahni knew from the get-go.
Indian police said his syndicate swindled investors out of nearly $50 million, nearly half coming from Australian victims.
In the winter of 2017, Mr Sahni began delivering seminars in lounge rooms across Sydney, accompanied by a flashy PowerPoint presentation about cryptocurrencies.
“This is the safest investment on the Earth right now!” he told one intimate gathering in Epping. “This is the bloody future!”
He was promoting a new entrant to the crypto market called “Plus Gold Union Coin” (PGUC), which he told punters earned him between $5,000 to $8,000 on any given day.
Investors would be rewarded for recruiting new members with lucrative commissions and overseas holidays.
“People won’t be able to digest this,” Mr Sahni exclaimed, before dazzling his audience with technical details about blockchain technology and cryptocurrency mining.
By investing around $7,000 in PGUC, he claimed, investors could have more than $100,000 in a year’s time.
To reap the maximum benefit, investors would have to lock into a 12-month contract during which they couldn’t cash out.
Popularity in PGUC grew quickly, and within months there were investors from 22 different countries involved.
But coin-holders soon discovered there was a problem — the PGUC website would go offline for weeks at a time, and if that wasn’t bad enough, the investors had no way to extract their money.
Then, in December 2017, the cryptocurrency price crashed, and WhatsApp chat groups lit up with users suspecting they’d been robbed.
In Australia, much of that frustration was vented at Mr Sahni, who responded with calculated nonchalance, assuring his investors everything was under control.
“Why are some people spreading false rumours in the group and stressing people out?” he told one Zoom meeting of concerned investors in April 2018. “Don’t do such irresponsible things.”
Read the full story, ‘Sydney concert promoter Harpreet Singh Sahni confesses to $50 million cryptocurrency scam’ (ABC News, 31 Oct 2020), here.