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Poor Gazans fall victims of money frauds
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20:57, June 09, 2009

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Ahmed Eassa, a 34-year-old Gaza taxi driver, became jobless after he sold his taxi for 10,000 U.S. dollars in November, and gave the money to businessmen involved in the illicit tunnels' business under Gaza-Egypt's borders.

"I was told by an alleged well-known businessman that I would get very good profit out of this business and that my money would be doubled within a month," said Eassa. "But, I was shocked when I discovered that the whole issue was a fraud."

It was not only Eassa, who became victim of a fraud in Gaza, there are thousands of people who decided to invest their money in the tunnels' business and found out after the end of the 22-day Israeli military offensive on Gaza that they were victims of a big financial scandal.

When Hamas movement took control of the Gaza Strip by force in June 2007, Israel sealed off Gaza Strip crossings and banned all kinds of products and raw-materials from flowing into Gaza. So the Palestinians dug tunnels under Gaza-Egypt's border to smuggle goods that Israel prohibited.

Along the 9-km borderline between southern Gaza Strip and Egypt, thousands of tunnels were dug under the border over the past two years, but at least 60 percent of those tunnels were destroyed by Israel during the offensive that ended on Jan. 18, while Egypt also destroyed hundreds of them.

Fuels, cows, sheep, soda drinks, motorcycles, cars' spare parts, electric generators and many other kinds of food products were bought in Egypt, smuggled into Gaza and sold for higher prices. Tunnels owners and illicit businessmen were in charge of the whole process.

The fraud victims, who lost their money, discovered that there was one Gaza man called Ihab al-Kurd, who plotted the whole scandal in coordination with dozens of local businessmen. Hamas government, which rules the impoverished enclave confirmed that al-Kurd was detained and questioned.

Ihab al-Ghusin, spokesman of deposed Hamas Ministry of Interior in Gaza, told Xinhua that the whole issue of the tunnel investment scheme "was discovered when thousands of people in the Gaza Strip complained that they lost their savings in this business and they are victims of a serious financial fraud."

He added that the victims "came to our security headquarters and informed us that a well-known businessman identified as Ihab al-Kurd was behind the whole scheme."

"Al-Kurd was initially jailed but later released after his property was confiscated, and the seized cash and property will be used to repay the investors who lost their savings in the scheme. Many of the investment schemers were put under house arrest," said Al-Ghusin.

Mohsen Abu Ramadan, a Palestinian economist said the affair began shortly before Israel's war on Gaza in late December, "when tunnels' owners advertised for tunnel business as an opportunity to invest in the goods brought from Egypt."

"Tunnel owners said it is a good business as people can make such great profit as goods bought from Egypt can be sold in Gaza for higher prices. These tunnel owners hired merchants from Gaza to get the money from ordinary people across the Gaza strip," said Abu Ramadan.

The Gaza economist believed that "this fraud harmed the Palestinian economy as most people lost their savings due to such a bad business."

Hamas said that the overall sum of money that was taken by the tunnel schemers is about 100 million dollars, but Abu Ramadan believe that the number is much higher, adding "the estimation is around 400 million dollars."

Ziad Zaza, minister of the economy in deposed Hamas government in Gaza said that his government formed a special panel to investigate the whole scheme issue.

"This committee is discussing the compensation packages and mechanisms for those who lost their savings in the tunnels' fraud," al-Zaza refused to give more details or to elaborate.

One of the investors, who named himself as Abu Khalil, said that he went under pressure to sign a secret contract with al-Kurd's company, through Hamas government and its security forces.

"They offered me 16.5 percent of my money, in return I should not complain or peruse al-Kurd. It's better to take back part of the money. Many investors signed the same contract," Abu Khalil said.

Source: Xinhua

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