Gaza rolling in fake money

Gaza police have seized their first major high-tech counterfeiting operation as more desperate Palestinians pass off fake money to unsuspecting businesses.

al-monitor Equipment found in a currency counterfeiting factory discovered in Gaza City, Gaza, is seen in a still from a video uploaded July 8, 2013. Photo by YouTube/Euronews.

Jul 30, 2018

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Counterfeit money is spreading in Gaza. On July 11, in a first in the besieged enclave, the Gaza police raided a large factory printing fake money in Gaza City. The police had previously arrested small networks of banknote forgers.

In a press release that day, the head of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in Gaza, Brig. Gen. Hossam Shahwan, said, “We raided a banknote-counterfeiting factory in Gaza City based on information received by the CID’s Central Operations Department. The CID seized sophisticated equipment and a modern banknote printer in addition to large amounts of high-quality counterfeit banknotes.”

He said that it was the first time that the CID has seized such advanced forgery equipment in Gaza.

Fake banknotes have been spreading in the Gaza Strip. “In light of the deteriorating economic situation and the high rates of poverty and unemployment, criminals are seeking to secure financial resources through various fraudulent means,” Seif Eddin Audi, an assistant professor at the Islamic University of Gaza, told Al-Monitor. “Some find counterfeiting banknotes an easy way to make illicit money.”

He added, “False bills are not easily transferred outside the Gaza Strip. They are immediately detected by the currency exchange offices and banks.” He explained that the Palestinian Monetary Authority is responsible for monitoring counterfeit currency and gives out guidance to banks and citizens about what to look for.

Audi noted that the money authority will relay any suspicion of counterfeit banknotes. “All concerned authorities, such as banks, judicial authorities and the police will cooperate and deploy concerted efforts to hold the involved persons accountable.” He contended, however, that forgery in the Gaza Strip could be much worse, as most of the counterfeiting is done by individuals rather than organized groups.

Mahmoud Abu Safia, head of the counterfeiting and forgery department at the Gaza Interior Ministry's crime lab, told Al-Monitor, “Counterfeiting operations in Gaza are low quality, done with laser or inkjet printers. [More convincing] banknotes are reproduced outside Gaza and smuggled into the enclave.”

He went on, “Forgers in Gaza cannot reproduce the design features of the US dollar bills, such as the security thread or watermarks. But the dollar bills are rigorously reproduced outside the Gaza Strip. It is easy for the average citizen to detect fake bills forged inside the Gaza Strip, but it difficult to detect those forged abroad.”

According to Abu Safia, counterfeit operations in the Gaza Strip are an unorganized crime that the authorities make great efforts to uncover and prosecute. He warned, however, that counterfeit banknotes in the Gaza Strip are costing ordinary citizens heavily, thereby harming the national economy.

A security source told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “Criminals want a way out of their extreme poverty amid the high unemployment rate. They resort to counterfeiting banknotes, government stamps and transaction documents as means of income.”

The source explained of the Interior Ministry's forgery department, “Recently a group of individuals smuggled a machine that falsifies government stamps on packs of cigarettes that are brought into the besieged Gaza Strip through the tunnels. They were trying to compete with the Hamas government for the taxes Hamas imposes on cigarettes brought to the Gaza Strip through tunnels.”

Ten years ago, Youssef Ahmed opened a currency exchange and money transfer office in Gaza City. He told Al-Monitor, “I have been given a lot of false bills in recent months, but I was able to immediately spot most of them and return them to the customer. Some false bills are made very well and hard to detect with the naked eye. It is the banks that later on spot these bills and return them to us. We end up bearing the loss.”

Ahmed said that the most commonly seen counterfeit banknotes in the Gaza Strip are the $100 bill and notes for 100, 50 and 10 shekels. Regular citizens are easily duped because they cannot detect the difference between fake bills and original ones despite telltale signs such as differences in texture.

He added, “Two days ago, I almost accepted a false $100 bill. I only noticed it was a fake when the client was about to leave the office. He denied it, of course, but when we checked the surveillance cameras they showed that it was his bill. A trader in the Gaza Strip had given it to him in payment for a tiling job.”

Khaled al-Buhaisi, a financial analyst and public finance professor at the Islamic University in Gaza, told Al-Monitor that the difficult economic conditions and poverty that affect large segments of Palestinians in Gaza are responsible for the spread of counterfeiting in the Strip.

“The Gaza Strip market is witnessing a dramatic increase in the number of fake bills,” he said. “Some are created in Gaza using primitive means, and the rest are smuggled through border tunnels between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. Counterfeit banknotes have stirred a major confidence crisis.”

Buhaisi added that the counterfeit banknotes also worsen inflation, hitting the poor and those with fixed incomes hardest.

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