At the busy Ambassador Bridge linking Detroit to Windsor, the continent’s most heavily travelled crossing, a Canadian border agent greeted three men in a GMC Yukon Denali with the usual recital of questions.
Did they have any firearms? Were they bringing in currency worth $10,000 or more?
“No, no, nothing like that,” the driver answered, according to notes made by members of the Canada Border Services Agency. Unconvinced, the agent told him to pull over for a search.
An inspection of the car would turn up two handguns and some ammunition, but when CBSA agent Celine El-Tayar opened the back door on the driver’s side of the SUV, she faced a wall of banker’s boxes. She tugged on one. It was unexpectedly heavy.
Lifting the lid, she saw wads of money.
Box after box — 24 in all — were similarly stuffed with bound wads of currency, each bill featuring the cursive swoops of Arabic lettering.
Over the next several hours, border agents and RCMP officers counted and photographed more than eight billion Iraqi dinars, at the time worth about $7.4 million.
The driver was asked whose money it was.
“It’s complicated,” he replied.
He was right about that. The border stop on Nov. 18, 2012 was just the beginning.
The RCMP seized the cash under the Proceeds of Crime and Terrorist Financing Act, triggering a fight with an oddball cast of characters over where it came from and who gets to keep it. The battle over the dinars involves a private investigator from California, a purported general from Hong Kong, a man who claims to be a judge but isn’t, a fringe religious group and a little-known American charity.
And along with those claims have come threats, suggestions of corruption and conspiracy and no small amount of buffoonery.