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Zain Telecom: Fraud lawsuits and boycott campaigns

Mohamed Hilali
Zain Telecom in Sudan is facing a barrage of accusations and social media network boycott campaigns.
25.09.2012  |  Khartoum
A Zain advert in Khartoum.
A Zain advert in Khartoum.

Zain Telecom’s expensive adverts are ubiquitous in Sudan, appearing on the streets, satellite channels and radio stations. But less publicised are a string of fraud cases affecting Zain customers.

Complaints hinge on vanishing bank balances and subscriptions for services that Zain clients did not request. The affected consumers say they have lost significant amounts of money.

Sabah Hussein Bashir, one of the scam victims.
© The Niles | Mohamed Hilaly
Observers say that these cases have been directly caused by the lack of communication and control between Zain and its agents who are involved in these scams.

Zain -- previously MTC -- was a Kuwaiti joint stock company founded in 1983. It entered the Sudanese market as part of the first mobile phone company in Sudan, the National Telecommunication Company, actually launched in February 1997 under the name Mobitel. In 2006, Zain owned and controlled all Mobitel transactions.

Sabah Hussein Bashir, a 20-year-old junior at the Faculty of Law at Neelain University, is one of those hit by the scandal.

I wanted to buy a SIM card,” said Sabah, I gave my ID card to a neighbour, who works with a Zain agent, to make and keep a copy of it.”

What Sabah did not realise was that the agent would use her ID information in most of his records which he then gave them back to Zain in return for an agreed fee. Sabah only realised something was afoot when the police came to arrest her on a fraud charge, involving a number registered in Sabah’s name.

Lawyer Hatem Al-Yaas.
© The Niles | Mohamed Hilaly
Despite being unaware of the case, the charges threatened to derail Sabah’s studies, as she was in custody while she was meant to sit exams in May. Later Sabah was again accused of fraud and brought to another police station. In its letter dated June 19, written in reply to the prosecutor’s request, Zain Legal Department says it has 1,751 numbers registered in the name of Sabah Hussein Bashir and requests more time to investigate this with its agents.

Hatem Al-Yaas is a lawyer who examined the case in detail albeit not being related to it. He explained that legally, Zain does not seem to have any direct relation with this incident.” He surmised that it was marketing mess by Zain, affecting innocents.”

In the event that Zain was aware of the agent’s illegal conduct, it would be held accountable along with him”, he said.

Al-Yaas said this incident highlighted apparent mismanagement. A person owning 1,751 SIM cards should have been suspected and the relevant agent should have been asked about it,” he said.

Muntasser Ibrahim Al-Zain, another Zain customer, complained that he was subscribed to an SMS service without his permission and was charged for numerous legal magazine updates that he had never asked for.

Muntasser Ibrahim Al-Zain, also affected by the scandal.
© The Niles | Mohamed Hilaly
His mobile phone received around 30 legal magazine SMS which meant he had to pay 10.50 SDG (US$2.50) without his permission, he said.

Zain Legal Department sent a reply to the Khartoum Criminal Court regarding the lawsuit, arguing that their customer had not received such a large number of messages.

In response to such cases, Facebook groups have started up to target the phone company. One such group, called Let’s together boycott Zain for one hour,” shares critiques of how the company operates. It now has 6,099 members. According to the group’s founder, Lucy Mustafa, the boycott group started to convey to the media all grievances and damages inflicted on innocent citizens by this company”.