Wed 13 Nov 2019

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Counterfeit US dollars proliferate in Homs

Money Transfer office in al-Waer, Homs - July 2016 (Enab Baladi)

Money Transfer office in al-Waer, Homs - July 2016 (Enab Baladi)

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Homs – Orwa al-Mundhir

As whole regions remain out of the regime’s control and with the influx of large quantities of foreign currency, organized gangs specialized in counterfeiting currency have proliferated. Their target are citizens with insufficient experience in detecting counterfeit currency.

Several reports have emerged in the past couple of months from Homs about the police arresting people “promoting counterfeit currency.” The latest operation was on 31 October, when nearly 200,000 counterfeit US dollars (USD) were seized in the possession of a gang that admitted promoting counterfeit dollars and having ties with a neighboring country, according to the police’s official social media accounts.

With the recession of the Syrian economy, and the setbacks that the Syrian Pound (SYP) has been suffering against the USD, Syrians shifted to relying on the American dollar as the main currency to preserve the value of capital, and to escape the spectre of exchange rate fluctuations that threaten Syrians’ livelihoods.

The Syrian regime, however, imposed limitations on the purchase and/or the sale of foreign currencies. The state narrowed the scope of purchasing hard currency to those with import licenses and merchants, creating a thriving black market that’s out of the state control.

Northern Homs countryside one of the highly-targeted places

Counterfeit currency, peddled by special gangs, has proliferated in the northern countryside of Homs ever since it slipped out of control of the regime forces in early 2013. Despite signing of a “reconciliation” agreement with the regime’s forces, the phenomenon continues and the number of victims continues to rise.

In May 2018, before the settlement agreement between the opposition and the Syrian regime, the existence of reliable money exchange stores, to which anyone could have access and exchange currencies safely, was normal. Experienced money-store owners were expected to ensure the pieces they sell were genuine.

But with the “reconciliation” agreement entry into force, all exchange shops were closed, and the access to the foreign currency became extremely difficult and dangerous, which increased the incidents of fraud by counterfeit currency.

Dollar vendor volunteering in regime forces

Making complaints against counterfeiters is known to be a difficult and dangerous process. Any circulation of  foreign currency that doesn’t follow the methods identified by the Syrian government exposes the person to legal liability, leading, in some cases, to lawsuits. Once a foreign currency is involved, the “terrorist sleeper cells” charge resurfaces.

One of the victims of counterfeit currencies, who preferred to keep his name anonymous due to security concerns, told Enab Baladi: “I had some money in SYP and decided to convert them into USD. Then, a friend told me that he was in contact with someone selling USD. I exchanged the money into around 600 USD. I later had to spend some dollars, but I found out that I was tricked with counterfeit dollars, and when I checked contacted the person who sold the dollars, he denied it and started evading me.”

The victim, who fears being arrested in case he complains to the state, said that “the incident happened more than two months ago, and I could not file a complaint because the person from whom I bought the dollars was a volunteer in one of the fighting factions affiliated to the Syrian regime forces.”

Rami, a lawyer from a city called Talbiseh in Homs countryside, added that the incidents of deceitful use of counterfeit currency are numerous and that the victims are held accountable and could be faced with economic courts. The lawyer also advised that foreign currencies should only be purchased from trusted and credible persons and people should not be tempted into these schemes by exchange rates offered by the owners of counterfeit currencies.

Five million counterfeit dollars

According to the Syrian newspaper al-Ayam, the Anti-Counterfeiting, Forgery and Cash Smuggling Branch in Syria reported that there are more than 5 million USD and nearly one million Saudi riyals circulating in the Syrian currency market at the end of 2018 that are counterfeit. The agency did not indicate the amount of counterfeit Syrian pounds.

The report of the agency clarified that counterfeit currencies and their exchange are a big problem in the governorates of Aleppo, Daraa and Sweida, calling on Syrians to “exercise caution when buying foreign currencies.”

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