The tale of a mysterious mound of Iraqi cash seized at the border, and the oddball cast that’s fighting for it
Border agents and RCMP officers at the busy Ambassador Bridge linking Detroit to Windsor counted and photographed more than eight billion Iraqi dinars, at the time worth about $7.4 million.
Border agents and RCMP officers counted and photographed more than eight billion Iraqi dinars, at the time worth about $7.4 million.
John Jagerson is a Utah-based financial analyst who has written a book about Iraqi dinar schemes.
Scene from a promotional video by Nathan Peachey uploaded in 2013 in which he pushed a fringe political belief of a 'new constitutional Republic for the United States of America.'
Among the cast of characters involved in the Iraqi cash seizure case is Tamarau Ngawhaka Kapinga O Te Rangi Puna, a New Zealander known as Tama Puna, who allegedly was to make the border crossing arrangements, seen here on his passport.
Peachey’s legal battle against the Canadian government has been unconventional.
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.
What would anybody in North America be doing with 24 banker’s boxes stuffed with such an exotic and difficult to deal in currency as Iraqi dinars?
There is a strange, underground allure to Iraqi money, particularly in the United States, where a mélange of conspiracy theory, shaky geopolitical ideas and biblical End Times prophecy fuels a get-rich belief that buying devalued dinars will yield huge profits when Iraq stabilizes and its currency regains value.
Proponents sometimes claim this was the real, secret reason behind the Gulf War — engineered by a cabal of war-profiteering elites — and encourage ordinary folks to get in on the anticipated bonanza. U.S. military personnel who served in Iraq, members of sovereign citizen movements who reject the laws and oversight of the state and fundamentalist Christian groups are among those who have shown particular interest in hoarding dinars.
The pitch has strong appeal for many Christian believers, said John Jagerson, a Utah-based financial analyst who has written a book about Iraqi dinar schemes. The ancient city of Babylon was in what is now Iraq and the Bible foretells the rise of Babylon preceding the second coming of Jesus Christ. Some think buying dinars will help hasten Christ’s return.
“So it is seen as an opportunity for a windfall wrapped up with spirituality, and invoking the authority of the Bible to show this is a reasonable proposition, when it really isn’t,” said Jagerson.
Most organized dinar sales schemes Jagerson has tracked, he said, are scams.
But that hasn’t stopped a scramble to claim the Canadian border stash.
THE PRIVATE EYE
As the 8,185,910,250 Iraqi dinars from the SUV were counted, the driver, Jesus Berrios, found himself in a serious pickle. Within minutes, Berrios, 53, of Daly City, Cali., was in handcuffs with his brother Jose and nephew Richard, who were with him in his SUV.
The next morning, the RCMP questioned him.
Berrios, it turned out, was a former police officer, retired from the California Highway Patrol and working as a licensed private investigator.
The story he told the Mounties began four years earlier when he met a man he called “the Overseer” of a religious group known as Jericho Outreach. Berrios described it as an Amish group in Pennsylvania that does international humanitarian work, according to the Mounties’ notes on the interrogation.
The Private Eye joined Jericho Outreach and acted as secretary and a trustee. Then, about a month before the border stop, Jericho Outreach hired Berrios to collect Iraqi dinars from supporters around the U.S., he said.
He trotted about the country collecting the bills from about 1,000 people. His family was among the investors and they helped organize and package the dinars, he said.
After all the money was gathered and sorted, he left his home in California, heading northeast, with his brother and nephew “along for the ride.”
He was to drive to Buffalo, N.Y., and call a fixer who would tell him where to take the money, but on his way, Berrios decided to drive into Canada to see Niagara Falls, he told police. He didn’t know he had to declare foreign currency at the border.
The three Berrios men were criminally charged with failing to declare money valued at more than $10,000, on top of eight firearms charges for the two guns and ammunition found in the SUV.
Released on bail, they returned to California, and apparently haven’t been seen this side of the border since. According to Ontario court records, there are warrants for their arrest for allegedly jumping bail and failing to appear in Windsor.
Just because he was unwilling to return to the country, however, didn’t mean the Private Eye was giving up on the dinars.
In February 2013, he had a lawyer write to the CBSA, objecting to the seizure and asking for its return.
The California Highway Patrol confirmed Berrios was an officer in 1984-92. A call to the security firm at which state records last list him as working revealed only he is “no longer with us.” He could not be reached for comment.
The dinars were still in the custody of the Canadian government and Berrios’ claim pending a year after the seizure when the CBSA received a second claim for the money, in the form of a registered letter from a mystery man.
Signing his name “General L.W.R. (Professor),” his opening volley was stern and domineering: a 72-hour “NOTICE OF DEMAND” on the letterhead of ITIG Trust, based in Hong Kong.
“I have initiated an investigation for fraud and my people have located it inside the borders of Canada where it is being detained by the CBSA,” declared the letter, dated Nov. 13, 2013. “Further investigation proves that certain unscrupulous people’s activity, even operating within my own organization, and in conjunction with certain government officials, have conspired together.”
He demanded “immediate release” of “100% of the cash assets” or he would initiate “all necessary International Financial Crimes enforcement and prosecution.”
His full identity remains a mystery. Is he a general? A professor? Both? Neither?
An email request for an interview sent to the address in the General’s “digital signature” on his demand letter was returned as undeliverable.
Neither the General nor the Private Eye would get their wish. On Feb. 24, 2014, the minister of public safety decided neither claimant had provided any legitimate explanation of the origin of the cash, so it would remain the property of the Crown.
In any event, the General’s interest in the dinars appears to have come at the last minute. A “deed of transfer” submitted in court says 8,185,910,250 Iraqi dinars were transferred to his ITIG Trust on the day of the seizure, from an organization called Noahs Ark Foundation.
That deed says it was filed and registered with the “Ecclesiastical Court of Justice, Pennsylvania.”
And that so-called court is the domain of a man named Nathan Joel Peachey.
Nathan Joel Peachey loves high-falutin’ language.
He often uses unusual word arrangements, legalese and odd capitalization, making everyday objects sound like proper nouns. He has a way of making almost any interaction sound like a legal pronouncement.
That’s also a hallmark of the anti-government “sovereign citizens” movements he has pushed in the past.
Peachey, 44, has been a leader in the Republic for the united States of America (RuSA), once the largest “sovereign citizen” group in America.
He starred in a 2010 online video encouraging citizens to opt out of the United States and join this “newly established republic here in America” that is subject to the Bible, the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, rather than the litany of laws and regulations enacted since the Civil War.
Before RuSA’s self-declared president, James Timothy Turner, was sentenced in 2013 to 18 years in prison for conspiracy to defraud the United States, he named Peachey the “Chief Justice for the one supreme Court.” After Turner’s arrest, it was Peachey who announced the process to select Turner’s replacement, according to multiple websites aligned with the movement.
And it is Peachey who is at the centre of the intrigue over the currency the CBSA seized. He is both “the Overseer” the Private Eye named to the RCMP and the man who authorized the transfer of the dinars to the General. So perhaps it was inevitable he would press his own claim to the eight billion dinars.
If the Private Eye’s letter was a request and the General’s a demand, the Judge’s missive might be described as a threat.
In a March 12, 2014, letter to the Canadian government, Peachey offered three options: “I choose to sit down at an appointed meeting and ‘SHED LIGHT’ on this subject matter and settle this between us like Gentleman (sic),” he wrote; or, he would “take all the investigation findings that we have and file criminal charges” and demand three times the amount of cash seized by CBSA; the third option, he wrote, was “Classified.”
He then filed a motion in the Federal Court of Canada, seeking to force the government to rescind the forfeiture.
In an email exchange with the National Post, Peachey rejected the suggestion there was anything fraudulent about his collection of billions in Iraqi currency.
“This dinar project has nothing to do with the RV (Re-Valuing) Internet scam promotions,” he told the Post.
In court filings, Peachey says Noahs Ark Foundation launched a “one-time special project” called the Dinar Exchange Project in August 2012 among “various friends, relatives, and their friends and relatives and associates.”
Participants transferred Iraqi dinars to one of seven trustees who assigned the money to Jericho Outreach, who in turn assigned it to Noahs Ark for exchange with ITIG.
Berrios, the private eye, was to transport, guard and deposit the dinars — and Peachey submitted a document saying Berrios was selected “by virtue of divine appointment.”
The money, Peachey said, was to be deposited in the Bank of Nova Scotia in Canada or at an institution in New York, all above board. He blames the border trouble on a conspiracy.
In court filings, both Peachey and Berrios claimed a fixer from New Zealand named Tamarau Ngawhaka Kapinga O Te Rangi Puna had told them border clearances and arrangements for the cash had been made ahead of time — a deviation from Berrios’s story to the RCMP.
Berrios was told to “take your guns along,” triggering the border stop, the filings claim.
The Post could not reach Puna for comment. Peachey wants to subpoena him to testify.
Assuming, of course, Peachey ever gets a full hearing in court.
THE COURT BATTLE
Peachey’s legal battle against the Canadian government has been unconventional.
He previously introduced himself as a “judge and a private international common-law lawyer.” He told the government he has “full attorney-in-fact powers” — a clever notation because he is not an attorney in any usual sense.
He later agreed he has no accreditation from any recognized law school or appointment by any recognized government as a judge, according to court filings.
Instead, he said, he is an “ecclesiastical judge.”
The federal court ordered him to hire a real lawyer. Peachey objected, offering an “affidavit of legal ability.”
“I am adequately knowledgeable of the Holy Bible (King James authorized version), Magna Carta 1215, Act of Settlement 1701, Paris Peace Treaty 1763, Law of Nations 1758, Canadian Bill of Rights 1960, Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms 1982,” as well as other acts, he wrote in the affidavit.
“The common law of nature and of nature’s God is the divine law-form of which all sovereigns therewith are bound to adjudicate their differences. No higher law exists.”
He also sought to subpoena Eric Holder, at the time the U.S. attorney general, and John Gerretsen, Ontario’s then-attorney general.
Peachey asked the court to keep some court filings confidential from government lawyers. He alleged the seizure was not a chance border stop, but rather a “staged seizure” by the CBSA and RCMP in a “conspiracy to fraud.”
He expressed similar concerns about privacy to the National Post.
“The free press is not a ticket or license to publish incorrect and untruthful facts and information that is under strict contractual confidentiality non-disclosure agreement,” he said in an email.
He discouraged open reporting on the case.
“Do not publish or print your article on this Canada Dinar issue without my approval first on any or all of the facts that they are true and correct,” he demanded, after offering to write an article for the Post.
Peachey has filed unorthodox documents in court showing he authorized himself to have power over each of the organizations involved in the dinar claims: Jericho Outreach, ITIG and Noahs Ark Foundation.
In fact, according to U.S. business records, Peachey’s name is associated with 17 registered companies in Mifflinburg, Pa., a borough of 1.8 square miles and a population of fewer than 4,000. Many have biblical names akin to Noahs Ark and Jericho Outreach, including House of David Foundation, House of James Foundation and In The Word Foundation.
“No explanation is given as to what any of these entities have to do with the issues in dispute,” writes prothonotary Kevin Aalto, the court’s judicial official managing the case, about the deed of transfer entered into court records.
I doubt there is a bank in Iraq that would be willing to give up dollars in return for so much local currency
“The legal status of the applicants is unclear and there is no evidence before the court that they are subsisting entities in law in Pennsylvania or elsewhere.”
The court is still waiting to hear if Peachey has hired a lawyer to further his claims.
In the meantime, the RCMP continues to hold on to the 24 boxes of dinars as evidence until the criminal case against Berrios and his kin can resume in Windsor — which will not be until they return to Canada.
Jagerson, though, is left wondering: Why are people still fighting so hard for the boxes of dinars?
The dinars may be worth millions according to the official exchange rate, but Jagerson believes they are in reality worth very little — because that much Iraqi currency can’t be exchanged on the open foreign currency exchange.
“I doubt there is a bank in Iraq that would be willing to give up dollars in return for so much local currency,” he said.