During the time that I was working in China (for a Chinese company), more often than not I used to have my breakfast, lunch and dinner at one of the company’s fifteen massive cafeterias’ (each cafeteria can accommodate around 1500 people!). It goes without saying that I used to love the company’s Chinese food, especially the breakfast and dinner, however, sometimes in the evenings after work on my way back to my apartment I used to wander into the local Walmart or KFC to retain my western gastronomical interests- not that I was homesick or anything, but just wanted to remind myself of what western food is like!
So on one particular hot and humid evening in August 2005, I happened to set foot into the KFC in Shenzhen (near the Shenzhen Skekou Walmart). While I was waiting for my Chinese style “Chicken Tortilla Wrap”, an African gentleman, perhaps around 50 years old and of a stocky build, was standing in the queue and greeted me. As it goes that in an environment such as China, where all foreigners have something in common (in that we are not Chinese!), so when a foreigner meets a foreigner, you usually start chatting away to each other. I suppose the same analogy goes if two people from the same race or culture meet in any environment that is alien to their own.
So, during our initial conversation over a KFC meal, this gentleman told me that his name was “Jeesan” and that he was a retired South African politician who had come to Shenzhen after failing to contest Thabo Mbeki in the elections. I asked him for his full name, and his response was a bit vague. “I’ll tell you later, don’t worry about that”, he told me while munching away on his KFC Chicken popcorn. That initial meeting did not last long as I had to dash back home; it was already past 10pm (I worked late hours, and used to wake up early to go to work!). We exchanged our mobile phone numbers and parted our ways for the evening. This was probably the turning point of the whole story because later on I was to realize that I wish I had not exchanged mobile numbers with him!
The next day I got a call from Jeesan at around 9pm just as I was about to leave my office. There was nothing strange or wrong with the conversation, just a normal casual friendly chat about life as a foreigner in China. He told me that he was practicing astrology and that he is living with his Chinese girlfriend in Shenzhen. I did not make a big deal of all these things, even of the “practicing astrology” part. We concluded the conversation by agreeing to meet for a drink near the Shekou Walmart in a week’s time. Sometime during that week I decided to check on the internet if there was anyone by the name Jeesan who had resigned from the South African government- has it happened, there wasn’t anyone named Jeesan who had matched the description of what he told me. I even asked a South African friend of mine and he told me he had never heard of anyone in the South African government of that name. Quite rightly my friend just advised me to be careful in case this “Jeesan” was some scammer or even a fugitive. I brushed such suggestions aside as the guy seemed to pose no direct threat in any verbal or physical way.
For that one week I received no phone call or message from Jeesan, and so I again I was under no impression that this could be something out of the ordinary or weird. Indeed, I had no reason to believe or think in such a way (except that I could not find his name anywhere on the internet!). The following week, I arrived at KFC near Shekou Walmart at around 8.30pm as agreed with Jeesan. At that time KFC was the only real western restaurant which also doubled as a coffee shop, so therefore we ordered some brewed coffee (KFC Style).
I suppose I was taking a gamble when I politely asked him for his real name again, also mentioning that I could not find his name anywhere on the internet. He did not seem to get angry or defensive; instead he coolly and calmly told me that he was protecting himself by using an alterative name. I am not sure what he meant by that. Anyways, then he told me that the reason he wanted to see me was because he has a financial problem, and that when he practices astrology in his apartment, god told him to come and speak to me (Navjot). Now at this point I really wanted to just get up and leave because I just found it hard to swallow in everything he was telling me. Nevertheless, I was just curious, and thought maybe I could dig something up from his words…what was he after? I thought.
“Go on, what is it?” I asked him. At this point he said “Look, let me show you something”; he then took out a black colored rectangular piece of paper, about the size of a US $100 note. Looking at the paper, I could have easily thrown it in the bin if I had not known what it was. In actual fact he told me that it was a genuine US$100 note, but it was black on both sides because it was defaced for security reasons. I still was not sure what he was up to, and just kept observing and listening with curiosity.
Jeesan told me that when International governments transport large amounts of hard currency across the world, they deliberately deface the hard currency with a black colored paint so that if, say for example, the plane gets hijacked than no one can make use of the real money. “So how do you make it normal/usable again?” I asked Jeesan. He allowed me to hold the paper, and asked me to see if I could rub off the paint, and I couldn’t. In my mind I kept thinking if this guy is some kind of magician or something because why is he showing me all this? I don’t have time for this rubbish, I thought to myself. Of course, I did not tell him this upfront. Anyways, at this point he took out a small bottle, perhaps around 20ml in size, containing a colorless liquid that looked just like tap water. He gently poured some of this liquid on the black note, and within seconds the black color faded away on both sides to reveal a perfectly normal (and genuine) US$100 note. He (Jeesan) even took out a fake note detector (small UV Torch) to show me the genuine watermark, and to my shock it was a real note.
The most interesting bit of the conversation came when he told me that he has over US$5 million of defaced hard currency in Beijing (which is a three hour flight north from Shenzhen), and that in order to “clean” this currency he needs to purchase at least ten bottles of 5 liters each of this liquid, which he just used to clean the US$100 note, from the American Embassy in Beijing. I think like any other sane person, I immediately knew where this was leading to, and quite rightly as I had then predicted, he wanted me to pay at least 50,000RMB (About £4,500 or $5,600) so that he could purchase this liquid and then he will give me a share of the US$5 million. I wish I had a Dictaphone or a secret camera with me so I could record the whole demonstration that he was carrying out. Of course, if only I knew that this was the real reason why he called me over for a drink in the first place.
I told him I would consider this offer of his and will get back to him in due course. The following morning I contacted both the American and British Embassies to tell them the story, and neither of the consulates (as I had predicted) had any such information or ever heard of this person called Jeesan- it was confirmed that I had stumbled across a scam. I have heard of scamming e-mails or telephone calls from African countries, but never encountered a real scammer in person (until this moment!). This was so surreal and unexpected. After our second meeting, I received a couple of calls from Jeesan, asking me to come to Beijing and assist with this "Money cleaning" task. I recorded both of those calls and gladly handed over to the authorities; changed my number and prayed I never meet such a person again. I was shocked, and somewhat scared I suppose, because I have never come across this kind of situation before, and did not expect it in China.
However, later I found out that there are a lot of fraud cases of a similar description in China, and almost all of them are originated from African countries. It’s a worrying situation for the Chinese authorities, and by all means, of course, not all African people (or other Foreigners) are like this; but I just wondered why me? Was I an easy target? It’s a mystery to me…
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