By Mohamed Juma Jalloh
Recent police raid on 31st July this year on Layton Street, off Wilkinson Road, west of Freetown has brought four into police net for allegedly printing fake dollars.
A Nigerian national, Okechuku Edison Onuha, and two Sierra Leoneans, Alie Koblo Koroma and an AK Private security guard were arrested.
Acting on a tip-off, a joint team of military and police personnel stormed the scene at about 2am to get the suspects.
The suspects now help the police in the investigation, and Hope of getting more exhibits remains high.
Stacks of dollar-printing machines and other materials allegedly used in the production of fake foreign and local currencies were uncovered. Arms and ammunition were also found at the scene of crime.
Deputy Head of Criminal Investigation Department, Tommy Zizer confirmed that weapons found at the scene would be used as exhibits.
“An AK-47 rifle alongside 175 assorted bullets and a box of empty shells including Anti-Aircraft Machine Gun shells were found on the scene,” Mr Zizer said.
In an exclusive interview, Superintendent Brima Kamara, Head of Police Media told Nightwatch that two business registration documents: a certificate of incorporation and registration were discovered, and are now in the custody of the police.
Almost a week after the raid, Supt Kamara says, it is possible for the police to unearth more clues that could implicate influential magnates in the criminal underworld of money doubling.
“Police will get down to the bottom of the investigation to ensure no one escapes justice,” he assured.
Recent crime trends show that it is common for weapons to fall into wrong hands.
The use of weapons by the ‘bad guys’ including money doublers is of paramount security concern to the nation.
But it is more of a concern when police connive with such high-profile crime suspects to commit crime. It has happened in the past where police officers were found guilty of delivering weapons to criminals.
It is alleged that such guns are got from felons for a substantial amount, and at the same time the renter is guaranteed of a shared amount when the mission is accomplished.
But, Director of Sierra Leone Operations, Mustapha Kandeh said safeguards were in place to ensure that the police handle weapons with professionalism.
Mr Kandeh said every police officer entrusted with a weapon had to account for it.
“Whatever danger that emanates from negligent or deliberate loss of firearms by a police officer is a serious crime in the police force,” he said.
For any firearm that goes missing, he says, a criminal investigation is mounted to establish the circumstances surrounding the loss off.
Head of police operations cited an example of a senior police officer who was investigated for connivance with armed robbers.
“The SLP has an uncompromising policy that ensures tight control of firearms in the hands of every SLP personnel,” he said.
“In fact I prefer resigning honourably from the SLP to losing my weapon,” Mr. Kandeh stressed.
It is often said it takes intelligence to become a criminal and engage in illegal activities.
Fraudsters are clever people that know how to lure their victims in a business transaction for selfish gains. Presenting legally registered documents to clients to demonstrate business legitimacy is one of several methods used to trap unsuspecting victims.
An importer may wish to change Leones currency to an international currency such as dollars to buy foreign merchandise.
Unwittingly, a trader would come across with such fraudster through introduction by a closed circle of a network of cheats.
It is very difficult for fraudsters to operate alone. More often, they are aided by a network of accomplices whose roles are significant to entice potential victims to take part in the fraud scheme.
If the business deal goes successful, the kingpin retains a substantial amount while some amount is apportioned to the network of conspirators that helped in providing the bait for the swindle.
In an event the victim noticed the gravity of the cheat, tracking the kingpin and his accomplices can be extremely difficult.
The fraudsters, no doubt, possess the cash and cache to evade justice.
Most times they have made their ways across national borders in the watch of International Criminal Police Organisation (INTERPOL), a network of police agencies of different countries of the world.
INTERPOL has found it extremely difficult to dismantle networks of organised crime especially money laundering.
Money doublers can change locations at any time and any place. They easily melt into thin air after ruining people’s finances in any country.
Porosity of country’s borders facilitates their flight operations into safe havens to evade police chase.
It is not uncommon for 419ers as they are otherwise called, to establish protective networks in the police. At any time they happen to come into conflict with the law, their established security networks can do whatever it takes to secure their release.
Whenever foreigners are duped, their connections at the Airport and other border crossing points can provide information on the exit and entry routes of foreign victims.
With such information, a trickster can easily circumvent his victims.
They can easily re-enter Sierra Leone when they realise that their victims have left the country`s shores.
Con men are generally renowned for being spendthrift and by spending money extravagantly, they easily recruit people to provide cover for their dubious activities.
While government is struggling to pump dollars into the country`s economy, through its intermittent auctions, the fake dollars create a black market, a situation that is bad for a weak economy.
In March, this year, the Central Bank Governor, Professor Kelfala Kallon gave an ultimatum to all vendors of dollars to formalise their operations by registering with the Central Bank.
For the clueless, it is very difficult to detect or identify fake dollars, but some clues exist to identify authentic dollars.
The use of an ultraviolet (black) light is very effective in highlighting security threads in dollars.
Plastic stripes in high denomination bills glow a specific way.
The $5 Dollar bill glows blue, the $10 bill glows orange, the $20 Dollar bill glows green, the $50 dollar bill glows yellow and the $100 dollar bill glows pink.
Moreover, feeling the texture of the paper, counterfeit money is one of the easiest ways to detect fake dollars. The quality of the texture of fake money is often different from authentic money.
In Sierra Leone, it is illegal to produce, possess or use counterfeit money if a prosecutor can prove that the intention is to defraud.
Counterfeit money can be used in cinematography. Afterwards, it is advisable to surrender all counterfeit money to the appropriate authorities.
It is also wise for the general public to exercise vigilance against fake money-makers