Sixteen Held Following Raid on Illegal Telephone Operations

RIYADH- Saudi security officers on Tuesday raided several illegal telephone operations here which were offering inter- national calls at cut-price rates. They were operated from small houses in the Batha and Al-Wazarat areas of the capital.

“The raids on the illegal telephone cabins were carried out by the personnel of the Passports Department and led to the detention of 16 people’ * eyewitness Abdurahman Kutty told Arab News yesterday. Kutty said that a number of other expatriates involved in such operations were deported earlier. Over 120 illegal telephone cabins currently operate in Riyadh, employing some 1,000 expatriates.

Kutty said most of those arrested were from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Philippines.

Arab News has also learned that a new fraudulent mobile phone service has been introduced, offering calls for 60 percent less than the official rates. Posing as a customer, Arab News was told by an Indian operator of an illegal service that such ventures make between SR300 to SR4,000 on weekdays. Their revenue doubles on Fridays, he said.

The operator said the illegal telephone racket inflicted millions of riyals of losses on STC and on legitimate call cabins. He listed the names of 18 illegal telephone operators, who have also been enjoying the patronage of their Saudi sponsors in this business. These operators, he said, offer international calls for SR15 for 10 minutes.

The figure is low compared to SIC rates, which the company’s monopoly allows it to keep high. “What worries me is that the fraud affects government revenue and our businesses at the same time.” said Omar M. Al-Harbi, a Saudi owner of a call cabin.

Al-Harbi said many international tele- phone companies which operate illegal “call-back” systems enabling the customers to make cheaper overseas calls have also started targeting individuals and companies in the Kingdom again after a ban was imposed by the Saudi Ministry of Telecommunication and Information Technology earlier. These call-back companies are now using fax, phone, mail and e-mail facilities to reach clients in the Kingdom. Saudi officials have taken up the issue of the call-back system with authorities in the countries where the service is provided. Some European and American companies are believed to operate the system offering discounts of up to 40 percent on overseas calls. One such company targeting the soaring telephone revenue of the Kingdom is Teledata International Inc.

A Teledata spokesman, who asked not to be identified, said he was targeting individual customers offering them a package of benefits, which include no deposits, no monthly fees and lower rates besides a facility to pay by credit card for making calls. Telephone rates and services are highly competitive in the US and consequently, Teledata can offer rates to overseas callers that are between 50 and 90 percent lower than SC’s disproportionately high rates.

Another firm, Rockwell Communications, which is targeting such customers in the Kingdom by mail, said that Rockwell can save customers around a third of STC rates and phone cards and as much as 90 percent off rates charged by hotels. “We offer the best rates from Saudi Arabia. The reason our rates are so low is that all calls are charged at a special discounted US rate, no matter where you are calling from in the world”, said a spokesman of the company.

Rockwell assigns a private number in the US. The customer here dials the number, lets it ring once and hangs up. Within a few seconds its computer calls back and connects to the US exchange. The customer can then make the call. The service has prompted the Ministry of Telecommunication and Information Technology to impose tighter measures to curb telecom trafficking.

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