Egyptians warned they risk prison for illegal foreign currency transactions

Central bank issues warning over debit and credit cards used abroad to withdraw large sums of money

The Central Bank of Egypt in Cairo. Reuters
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Egypt’s central bank said on Monday citizens could face as many as three years in prison and a fine of up to 5 million Egyptian pounds ($120,000) if found guilty of unlawful foreign-currency transactions.

The Central Bank of Egypt has increased its monitoring of forex deals after it became aware of illegal practices it says were carried out to destabilise the country’s financial stability in recent weeks.

It said it was made aware last week that debit and credit cards owned by Egyptians who had not left the country were being used abroad to withdraw large sums of foreign currency.

It reached its peak last week when $55 million was withdrawn on one day, the CBE said.

The sum was five times the daily withdrawal average recorded by the bank during the most recent financial quarter, it added.

Any sums of foreign currency withdrawn abroad using Egyptian-issued bank cards will be more thoroughly investigated, the bank said.

Should card owners be found in a separate location from where their money was withdrawn, their cards will be automatically cancelled and they will be investigated by the relevant authorities, the CBE warned.

The CBE said many Egyptian expats are choosing to send remittances home through private and unbanked channels, which violates a 2020 law.

Additionally, the bank said it recently learned that some Egyptians are withdrawing foreign currency from banks at home to form disingenuous travel and export companies abroad.

They then use the companies to funnel large sums of foreign currency outside Egypt, the bank said.

“They come back and submit requests for more foreign currency from Egypt’s banking sector despite having accumulated sums of it in foreign accounts,” the CBE said.

The bank said the practices will make it look more closely at travellers’ requests for foreign currency.

Because of a recent shortage in dollars, travellers often have to notify their banks ahead of their trips to secure foreign currency.

However, the CBE said it has directed banks to facilitate foreign currency requests from travellers leaving the country for medical or educational purposes.

The bank warned citizens not to be enticed by financial endeavours that promise to make them quick money through illegal means.

Egypt’s foreign reserves have hit record lows this year, following economic complications brought on, in part, by the Russia-Ukraine war.

The shortage has resulted in the piling up of $9 billion worth of goods at the nation’s ports, a supply slump and a rise in consumer prices.

Updated: December 27, 2022, 1:28 PM