Complex Made Simple

Grand theft and other traditional financial crimes still happen in the age of ransomware

Just because it is now easier to steal money online via hacking and DDoS ransomware, it doesn’t mean that rogue elements are not trying to engage in criminal financial activity, the old-fashioned way

Theft of cash and documents from a UAE embassy and a £3 million ($4.2 mn) blackmail plot to return them A corruption scheme worth $3.1 bn involving bank officials and businessmen has been uncovered Illegal aliens in Jeddah run markets to sell stolen residency permits (Iqamas).

Just because it is now easier to steal money online via hacking and DDoS ransomware, it doesn’t mean that rogue elements are not trying to engage in criminal financial activity, the old-fashioned way.

Here’s a recent look at such crimes in the region.  

UAE embassy theft

Security officers have recently appeared in court over the theft of cash and documents from a UAE embassy and a £3 million ($4.2 mn) blackmail plot to return them.

Lee Hurford, 48, from Leeds, is accused of stealing from the UAE’s London embassy in Belgravia.

The alleged offenses happened in September 2018.

Co-defendant Dean Manister, 50, was then head of security at the building and faces charges including blackmail.

Hurford, who was employed as a close protection officer in the building, is accused of stealing cash between September 14 and 15, 2018.

He is also accused of stealing paperwork, documents, receipts, and an identity card, and orchestrating a blackmail plot for the return of the sensitive items.

The men appeared via video link at the hearing where a two-week trial was set for 4 April 2022.

Read: Anti-financial Crime Compliance Significantly Impacted by the Covid-19 Crisis

Read: Financial attacks and sophisticated fraud schemes claim more unsuspecting UAE victims

Anti-money laundering failings

On January 31, 2021, UAE’s Central Bank has fined 11 banks a combined total of $12.5 mn for anti-money laundering (AML) failings, following warnings that the Middle Eastern state was looking to shed its reputation as a financial crime hotspot.

The 11 banks were not named but are accused of having inadequate AML and sanctions controls at the end of 2019.

Though the fines handed out are relatively small, the announcement marks the first enforcement action taken in the UAE since a damning review of the country’s efforts to fight financial crime, published last year by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

The UAE’s effectiveness in penalising firms for facilitating financial crime, as well as investigating and prosecuting money laundering, were deemed “low”, the task force’s lowest score.

The FATF report said authorities “must take urgent action to effectively stop the criminal financial flows that it attracts”. 

The average fine handed to each bank totaled little more than $1 mn.

Massive Saudi Fraud

A massive corruption scheme worth 11.5 billion Saudi Riyals ($3.1 bn) involving bank officials and businessmen has been uncovered by Saudi anti-graft authorities, according to a recent report.

The Anti-Corruption Authority (Nazaha)  launched an investigation in cooperation with the Saudi Central Bank after receiving information about some bank employees receiving bribes from an organized gang in the Kingdom. The gang consists of expatriate residents, citizens, and businessmen who deposit cash sums from unknown sources and transfer them outside the Kingdom.

Five expatriate residents were arrested while heading to a bank to deposit over 9.78 mn Riyals ($2.64 mn) in cash. The authority’s officials also apprehended seven businessmen, 12 bank employees, and a non-commissioned officer involved in the corruption scandal.

The authority also nabbed five Saudis and two expats for their involvement in bribery, forgery, and exploiting their positions for illicit financial gain, commercial fraud, and money laundering.

One of the businessmen involved in the corruption case set up a number of fake commercial entities under his name and the name of his wife and son. He later opened bank accounts, enabling residents to use them in exchange for a monthly payment.

The accounts were used by residents to deposit cash sums from unknown sources and transfer them abroad with the collusion of bank employees in exchange for receiving money and gifts.

The businessman paid 300,000 Riyals ($81,000) to a non-commissioned officer in a police department in exchange for stalling his case that involved suspicious financial dealings and paid 4 million Riyals ($1.08 mn) to Saudi mediators to stall the same case with the Public Prosecution.

The case also involved a bank branch’s manager who established a number of fake commercial entities and opened bank accounts.

Residency fraud in Saudi

Illegal aliens in Jeddah run markets to sell stolen residency permits (Iqamas). At these markets, people shop for Iqamas that were obtained illegally from legal expatriates. 

If an expat had their Iqama stolen and had not received a call from the thief (using the phone number on the Iqama) offering to return it for a certain sum of money, then these markets would be a place where the expat could look for a replacement.

Sadeq, a Sudanese expatriate who lost his residency permit on the bus in the Balad area, said he was contacted a few hours after the incident. “The man offered to return the Iqama in exchange for 1,200 Saudi Riyals ($324). If I failed to pay, he would sell it.”
Eventually, the two agreed on some $135 to be paid in a market in the middle of Bab Makkah area.

Organized groups that are specialized in pickpocketing Iqamas make use of the many expatriates in Jeddah traveling on buses or walking in the streets. After stealing the Iqamas, the thieves call and negotiate with the victims. If the victims don’t pay, the permits are sold to illegal aliens.

The Police in Jeddah have arrested many illegal aliens who were part of Iqama-stealing gangs.  

Blunt daylight financial assault in the UAE

A gang of eight Africans was arrested for stealing more than 4 mn Dirhams ($1.09 mn) from two employees in Dubai.

Dubai Public Prosecution documents dated the case back to October 6, 2020, when the gang followed two employees who entered a bank to withdraw huge amounts of money. They waited for the duo to exit the bank, before attacking them and stealing the money.

One of the victims said that he went to the bank with his colleague to withdraw money for the company he works for. When he went out, he was assaulted by three Africans.

One of them had a knife, the victim said, adding that after they took the money, they escaped the area by car, in which the other accused were waiting.

Both victims went to the police to report the incident, which occurred in Al Muraqqabat Area.

After an investigation, the police identified the gang members, who had split the money between themselves and hidden some of it in an old house in a different emirate.

The gang confessed to committing the crime, and the police referred them to the Public Prosecution, which sent their case to the Criminal Court in Dubai for trial.