Page last updated at 09:57 GMT, Friday, 16 May 2008 10:57 UK

Egypt con man gets 1,000 years

By Ranyah Sabry
BBC News, Cairo

Handful of Egyptian pounds
Members of the con man's family insist he was just making a living

An Egyptian man has been sentenced to 1,000 years in prison for defrauding hundreds of people out of about $52m.

Abdullah Kamel Mohammed tricked people into giving him money which he promised to invest and split the profits with them. Mohammed would then disappear.

He is believed to have tricked about 500 people out of their savings, starting in the early 1980s.

Members of his family have appeared on TV blaming the victims for being naive enough to hand him their money.

As an unemployed man, his family argue, Mohammed was merely trying to make a living.

Such cases come to light regularly in Egypt, where working middle class people seem ready to hand their life savings to a person they hardly know in return of a promise of 20% profit to be returned on monthly basis.

Weighing the promise against the current bank interest rate of about 8%, they opt to exchange their money for a signed piece of paper from the con man and pray for the best.

The first con men of this kind emerged in the 1980s. As the crime was new, the law was lax and allowed the early con men to flee the country with their gains or spend short terms in prison.

Some victims blame harsh living conditions they are desperate to escape.

Others blame the government for the light sentences that seem to encourage fraudsters.

The harsh sentence handed down to Mohammed may go some way to discouraging con men, but will Egyptians learn not to fall for the same scam?

Here are a selection of your comments on the story:

Here in Egypt it's not the actual con that hurts, it's the process you have to go through to get your rights. Lawyers are like packs of wolves. When one has a problem they all side together because if one falls the whole system has a problem. In my case, I found the lawyer had a relative in the courthouse and the important papers were not seen by the judge, and I had to make other charges of misdemeanor against the district office in order to see my papers. This did not go down very well with the other judges. Here in Luxor there are over 100 cases involving Europeans, mainly the selling of building land and property. Not many get to my stage of getting past the first hearing, they are often forced to give up by the lies and the coruption here.
Anthony Roberts, Wales

I had to buy a laptop adapter from Radioshack (a reputable electronics retailer) branch in Heliopolis (a high-life district in Cairo). The salesman told me to keep the cardboard box and the receipt to be able to replace it or return it. Less than a week later I had to return it, and the same guy was there and I told him I had a problem with my laptop and I was in no need for the adapter. He asked me to come later that day to meet his superior as he could not take the decision of taking a product back and refunding me. He kept asking me about the laptop problem and while talking to me, collected the adapter in its box and gave it to me in a plastic bag as I gave it to him in the beginning. 5 minutes later I discovered the receipt was not there, and I had to go back to ask for it. I found it with him and with a meaningful smile he told me he was keeping it for me. Of course, I realised what he meant. If I had gone back later that day and asked him for a refund, he would have asked me for the receipt; I would have told him I had left it with him in the morning, and he would've denied it. This is Egypt now.
Joy, Cairo, Egypt

Bought a round trip ticket from Stockholm to Cairo from Egyptian Airlines. When I was ready to get on the flight to leave, the check in attendant said the flight was full along with many other passengers waiting to get on the same flight. They wanted us to give them money to get on board. I told them that i made reservations two months ago and if I didn't get on this flight, I would go to the Swedish Embassy and newspapers to let them know what kind ofs cam was going on. They let me on.The flight was half full on the way back.
Tom Riviere, Solna Sweden

Yes, I transferred fifty thousand US dollars, but that was in 1988, to a money investment company, blessed by the government, daily advertised in the national newspaper. Suddenly the government declared them illegal, I lost my money
Boda Mesbah, Alexandria

This gentleman made $52m with scam, no way he is a scammer. Somebody find him and tell him that he needs to join any of our big investment banks. Sir, if you are reading this please apply for a position in any Wall Street investment bank.
Sam. Rao, Boulder,CO

A relative of mine in Alexandria recently suffered a similar fate at the hands of a conman, losing almost all the money he had saved from working for two decades in the Gulf. That educated people are willing to take chances with such fraudsters is a sign of how terrible the economic situation in Egypt has become. And it is getting worse every day. Inflation, corruption, and now the global food and fuel crisis are eating away at the economic heart of the country. These days, the only way to survive in Egypt is to be as corrupt as the fraudsters, the police, and the politicians, or to reply upon the mercy of God.
Idris, Egyptian in London, U.K.

I got scammed by some dentist who convinced some people to invest their money with him, as being a dentist, the guy seemed trustworthy. Many people gave him money for 25% yearly profit, which is more than any bank or stock market... anyway, the guy is still on the run and we are hoping to get our money BACK!!
Kareem Abdel Monem, Cairo, Egypt

An interesting article indeed. In fact, there's a scam going on right now run by one Sudanese; he's making a fortune for himself from unsuspecting victims. I'm a Kenyan student in Cairo. Some three weeks ago a Kenyan friend came to me trying to convince me to invest $600 with this Sudanese guy, which would earn me a commission of $250. I was told I would get the money by convincing other unsuspecting individuals to come up with $ a total of $4200, and be rewarded $250. I told him it was absurd.
Yahya Wafula, Cairo, Egypt

I am half Egyptian and during my recent trip to Egypt the local elections were being held and one of the candidates running was well-known in the area as someone who operates these kind of scams. And once his campaign posters were up in the area of Cairo people started to recognise him and were trying to take him to court.
Stefan Knust, Scotland

Here in this country, or the entire city for that matter, you always have to assume your being scammed. Because most of the time if your not careful enough you ARE being scammed and you just don't know it. It can be something as simple as shopping for clothes, picking something out, paying for it, then going home only to realize that the item in your bag isn't what you really picked out. Then when you try to take it back to the shop the owner doesn't accept it, and won't give you your money back. Of course that's just a little example, it starts from there and goes all the way to that article above.
Yousef Diftar, Cairo

As someone who works primarily in Dubai, isn't this exactly what every property company in Dubai is promising? I mean, there is no freehold there (despite what the property companies say), and the government already expropriated all the land in the 1960s (as any old Kuwaiti, who bought back then, can tell you). This is endemic to the Arab mind-set: throw money at get rich quick schemes, while the basic development of society gets nothing.
Senar Bass, London, UK

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