Once upon a time, there was a man who called himself Abdel Wassim El Whani, who claimed to be a Qatari billionaire. Whani rose to the height of Internet fame after he was filmed handing out piles of cash and fancy cars in the streets of Paris. However, no one, not even the Qatari authorities in France, seems to know who he really is.
The mystery surrounding Whani dates back to September 5, when the first of what would become a series of videos appeared online.
Shot like a documentary, Whani introduces himself as a member of one of the most “powerful families in the Middle East”. The clip then shows him carrying a bag with one million dollars in 500 euro bills, which he casually places at the feet of a homeless woman sitting on the pavement of a Paris street.
Two weeks later, a second video of Whani surfaced. In it, the eccentric Qatari billionaire explains that he is determined to fight against the prevailing culture of consumerism. Using Apple’s new iPhone 5 as an example, Whani says that he “doesn’t understand how people can put 500 dollars [into] a little thing like that, and then they cannot give two euros to people who [don’t have enough to] eat.” He then proceeds to buy as many iPhone 5 as he can, which he chucks into a rubbish bin.
The third and most recent video shows Whani giving an apple-red Ferrari to two young men allegedly from Paris’ disadvantaged northern suburbs. The footage shows the two men sitting in the car, grinning from ear to ear while thanking their newfound Qatari benefactor. When asked what they plan to do, the man behind the wheel says, “We’re going to go pick up some girls. Right now”.
The bizarre video series was picked up by a blog featured on French daily Le Monde’s website on October 13 and 14, which has since received a deluge of comments from readers eager for handouts from the mysterious billionaire.
Whani’s antics were apparently filmed by the tiny French production company JisaMedia. According to their website, Whani, who is described as a “Qatari billionaire who has decided to distribute his immense fortune to strangers in need,” decided to let camera crews follow him as part of a reality television show.
On the surface, it appears that Whani, a sort of modern-day Robin Hood incarnated in the body of a quirky Qatari philanthropist, could be real. But upon careful inspection, there is little to suggest that his character actually exists beyond  the Internet.
To begin with, there is almost no trace of Abdel Wassim El Whani online except for the videos. The sole exception is a Facebook page under the billionaire’s name, which first appeared on September 4. The following day, the first of the three videos was posted on it.
Stranger still, it appears that the Qatari authorities in France have no knowledge of Whani. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, an official from the tiny Gulf state told FRANCE 24 that the man in the video spoke of an “unknown family and had an unfamiliar face”.
What’s more, the creator of JisaMedia, Ange Jisa, has done little to clear up the mystery.
“A lot of people have asked us who is behind the videos, and if it’s true or not… I’m not going to say, we want it to remain ambiguous,” Jisa told FRANCE 24, adding that she was taken aback by the reaction to the series. “We never asked anyone to send us their e-mail address or tell us about their financial problems… [Whani] was also surprised by the number of responses online.”
The one thing that is certain is that Whani’s sudden appearance has probably done little to amuse the Qatari government, which recently found itself embroiled in controversy after deciding to invest millions of euros in France’s impoverished suburbs.