Kuwaiti social media influencers under investigation for 'money laundering'
Kuwait's Public Prosecutor Dherar Al-Asousi ordered on Sunday the freeze of assets and bank accounts of 10 social media influencers, slapping a travel ban that stops them from leaving the country as authorities investigate the source of their funds.
Kuwaiti media reported that "the decision of the Public Prosecutor comes against the backdrop of the complaint submitted by the Financial Investigation Unit against the influencers, after it became apparent that their bank accounts were inflated and suspected of being involved in a wider money laundering ring."
Kuwait's Public Prosecution had received complaints against five social media influencers, after their bank accounts dramatically inflated, local media reported.
One source said the bank account of a suspected influencer was dramatically inflated to KD20 million ($65 million), other suspected influencers had their accounts inflated to up to KD10 million ($32.5 million).
"Initial information and investigations confirmed the suspicion of money laundering, indicating that the value of advertisement bills that some celebrities get cannot lead to such bank account inflation and owning villas, yachts, jewellery, precious watches and presenting gifts worth tens of thousands dianrs," a source told Gulf News.
Local reports alleged that the influencers in question had been using leading Kuwaiti beauty ecommerce platform Boutiqaat to launder money. The founder of the platform is among the ten being investigated.
A source close to the case has told MENAbytes that the sales of Boutiqaat have dropped by over 90 percent since the news surfaced this week.
Its founder and CEO Abdul Wahab Al Essa is running for MP in the upcoming November elections. He is a member of the New-Kuwait Group, Kuwait Journalists Association and a frequent presenter on various TV political programme.
Also among the suspects is 29-year-old Fouz Al Fahad, known by her Instagram name "the Real Fouz". She has 3.2 million followers on Instagram and is the owner of "The Real Fouz Beauty" salon and make-up line "Real Fouz Beauty".
Al Fahad took to Instagram to refute the allegations and reassure her followers.
"I want to reassure my followers […] I am fine! Everything is okay! These are just routine legal work. Authorities have the right to investigate anything they feel is suspicious. They can question me and look into my account - I am happy to comply. They will find that everything is clean," she said in a video.
Also a suspect is Farah Hady, who is a Bidoon (stateless) and has over 5 million followers on Instagram as well as her own cosmetics brand "Farah Al Hady".
Iraqi fashion influencer Dana Al Tuwarish, who lives in Kuwait and has 2.3 million Instagram followers has also been identified as one of the ten suspects.
A list naming the 10 suspects was published by Kuwaiti newspaper al-Qabas, and they have been identified as the following:
1. Fouz Al Fahad
2. Abdul Wahab Al Essa
3. Dana Al Tuwarish
4. Mishari Buyabis
5. Halema Bouland
6. Maryam Reda
7. Farah Hady
8. Jamal Al Najada
9. Shifa Al Kharaz
10. Yaqub Boushehri
Hotspot for corruption
Concerns that Kuwait is becoming a hotspot for corruption and money laundering have alarmed the country's rulers, with Prime Minister Sabah Al Khalid Al Sabah warning that "nobody will be protected by their position or name if they have committed a crime that infringes on public money".
The Gulf state has been drawn into Malaysia's 1MDB sovereign wealth fund corruption scandal, with Kuwaiti authorities having arrested Sabah Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Sabah, a son of Kuwait's former prime minister, along with two associates last month in connection with the scandal.
Kuwaiti authorities are also investigating a high profile case involving Bangladeshi businessman and politician Mohammad Shahid Islam, who has been remanded on charges of human trafficking and money laundering.
In a bid to protect the state's reputation, Kuwaiti ruler Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah has urged the coutnry's Anti-Corruption Authority to also take action against false accusations of corruption.
"We have seen the spread of information throughout various social media platforms that accuses and offends Kuwait - with no credible evidence - of becoming a breeding ground for corruption," he said.