x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Two held over 'magic powder' cash fraud

Two men are arrested after offering to double an undercover agent's money using a magic powder, the Ministry of Interior say.

Abu Dhabi // Two men have been arrested after offering to double an undercover agent's money using a magic powder, the Ministry of Interior said yesterday. The suspects, Africans identified as SLD, 32, and ASN, 33, are accused of claiming that a "magic blend" sprinkled over banknotes contained in a bag would double the amount. Laboratory tests showed that the powder consisted of flour and washing powder.

"It is all absurd," said Col Maktoum al Sharifi, the director of the Criminal and Investigative Directorate (CID). "They would put some of the powder on the notes they want to double. They would then put the notes in a bag and ask their victims not to open the bag until the blend takes effect." The usual method was to give the victims, most of whom came from the northern emirates, an initial "demonstration" of the powder's inflationary properties before being asking them to hand over a larger number of notes.

However, that money would be switched with fake notes that would then be covered with the powder and closed in the bag. Col al Sharifi said many people had fallen for the scheme, although fewer in recent weeks. "We used to receive a lot of reports from people six months ago. We have not received any such reports recently," he said. "They swindled one person out of Dh6 million [US$1.6m]." Eventually police identified the suspects, who were arrested in a hotel in Abu Dhabi after trying to convince an undercover officer posing as a potential victim that their powder could turn a US$100 note into two notes of the same value.

The colonel did not say how much the suspects were believed to have made from the fraud, but alleged that "a massive number of people, not some, lost money to them". He said similar frauds had taken place in the UAE before, mostly practised by Africans. "They use similar tricks and methods." Last month Ajman police detained a Russian, VA, 42, who was allegedly operating a similar scheme, even convincing victims who knew of the African scheme that his "Russian magic" was honest.

Earlier this year, a directive by the Supreme Judicial Council declared that anyone accused of activities involving black magic, sorcery or witchcraft would be tried under criminal law. Until then such cases had generally been dealt with under civil law. The council called on Abu Dhabi's courts to take a tougher stance on black magic cases, even deporting non-nationals found guilty. hhassan@thenational.ae