A court in Bruges has sentenced one man to three years in jail and others to 18 to 40 months for their part in running the notorious ‘black money scam’.
The scam is known to law enforcement agencies worldwide, and operates like this:
The gang approach the victim either directly or by a mass email message, claiming the target may be the beneficiary of a will and eligible to inherit a lot of money. If the victim responds, they are asked to pay various fees, legal charges, customs duties and more, until finally they decide to back out.
To keep them on the hook, the gang then present them with a trunk or suitcase, containing what appears to be a large quantity of pieces of black paper, which the gang explain are banknotes that have been dyed to allow them to be smuggled.
To make the argument more convincing, one of the criminals might ‘wash’ one of the notes using a special fluid, revealing a real banknote. In reality, this is a piece of sleight of hand, or the use of a single genuine banknote that has been treated with glue and iodine.
The victim is then told he must hand over enough money to pay for the cleaning fluid, which is of course very expensive, and can then take the money away.
The victim may have heard tell of black money, or money laundering, and the story may seem credible. In addition, they may already have invested so much that they are reluctant to back out now.
It goes without saying that the rest of the black money is worthless paper, but which time the criminals have gone. Most victims are reluctant to report the scam for fear of appearing foolish.
The accused in the Bruges case are men of Cameroonian origin who met up regularly in a Brussels cafe one of them ran Investigators found they had contacts with others operating the same scam as far afield as Uzbekistan, Oman and Indonesia. The Belgian man caught in the trap was from Blankenberge, and reported the scam to local police after being asked to pay €11,000 for the cleansing fluid.
At trial, the man thought to be the leader of the gang was sentenced to three years on charges including money laundering, forgery, using a false name and criminal conspiracy.
Two others received 40 months, half suspended, while three others were given sentences of 18 and 20 months. The wife of one of the ringleaders received eight months for money laundering – in the legal sense of the term.
It is not known if there were other victims in Belgium who have not come forward.