- July 23 2014
- By Romana Puiuleț, Daniel Bojin and Cristi Ciupercă
The crime, according to prosecutors, was tax evasion by companies importing food to Romania. But there was a new wrinkle in the scheme – set up refugees to take the blame when the crimes were discovered.
The man who made this possible in Romania was Mohamad Al Dulaimi, working with a network of Turkish fraudsters perpetrating a similar scheme.
An Iraqi citizen, Al Dulaimi is currently jailed in Bucharest, serving a four-year term. But prosecutors say that between 2004 and 2008 he headed an illicit network that brought hundreds of Iraqis to Romania where some of them were used as front men for tax fraud.
Al Dulaimi denies it all, saying he was simply helping fellow countrymen escape intolerable conditions in war-torn Iraq.
Prosecutors, however, tell a very different story. They say the Al Dulaimi network placed Iraqi migrants as “straw men” at Romanian companies.They say the scam worked like this: the actual owners of the companies ran up huge tax debts, and when tax authorities came looking for the missing money, they found the companies headed by Iraqi immigrants who in many cases claim they had no idea what was going on.
This scam involving companies with clueless owners was repeated many times. Romanian authorities estimate that in 2012 the tax evasion reached no less than €14 billion (US$ 18 billion).
Reporters from OCCRP interviewed some of the people involved, and discovered that the Al Dulaimi network functioned in cooperation with a second network run by Turkish citizens. The two sets of criminals communicated with each other and helped create even more complex tax evasion schemes.
From Bucharest to Samandag, Turkey
Connections to the Turkish network can be traced through one of the biggest scams, involving companies that belonged on paper to Iraqi citizen Morad Ahmed and to “AB,” an innocent Swedish citizen of Iranian origin who requested anonymity.
Morad Ahmed told OCCRP he signed what he thought was immigration paperwork, not knowing the papers named him as the owner of various companies. AB never set foot in Romania but his stolen passport was used to establish or take over about 70 companies in the Eastern European country.
One of these companies was Lonelia Com SRL, trading vegetables and fruit from Turkey. It was transferred on Aug. 7, 2008, to the names of AB and Morad Ahmed together with its massive debt to the state, € 15.6 million (US$ 21 million) in unpaid taxes.
Following the money, OCCRP reporters discovered that the company was involved in an elaborate tax evasion scheme rooted in Samandag, a Turkish town near the Syrian border.