A U.K. man who became rich selling fake bomb detectors in Iraq and other trouble spots was convicted of fraud this week in London’s Old Bailey.
James McCormick bought novelty $20 ‘golf ball detectors’ from the U.S., according to the BBC. The devices — useless radio aerials attached by a hinge to a handle — were sold as bomb detectors for $5,000 each, the BBC said.
An ‘advanced version’ that was also useless sold for up to $55,000.
Sales of the fake devices in Iraq alone amounted to $85 million, according to court testimony.
Much of that money ‘went in bribes to senior figures, including the head of the Baghdad bomb squad, General Jihad al-Jabiri. He and two other Iraqi officials are now serving jail terms for corruption,’ the BBC said.
The BBC first broadcast a program about the fraud in 2010. It based its report on evidence from a whistleblower who had worked closely with McCormick but grew suspicious.
The whistleblower said McCormick paid the bribes through a bank in Beirut. ‘At least 15 Iraqi officials were on the payroll,’ he told the BBC.
In addition to Iraq, the phony bomb detectors were sold in Georgia, Romania, Niger, Thailand, and Saudi Arabia, the BBC said.
An Iraqi victim badly hurt in a roadside bombing told the BBC: ‘When people passed through checkpoints using these devices, they thought they would be safe. But they are useless. The man who sold them has no conscience. He is morally bankrupt. How could he sell them just for money and destroy other people’s lives?’
The inspector general of the Iraqi interior ministry ‘believes the scam is responsible for hundreds of deaths,’ the BBC said.
As an example, he told the London court, ‘one vehicle laden with rockets and missiles passed through 23 checkpoints using the device, undetected.’
The whistleblower said he told McCormick that if the device didn’t work, ‘I can’t be any part of it.’
McCormick replied, ‘It does exactly what it’s designed to. It makes money.’
The whistleblower then warned customers.
He also contacted the U.K. Ministry of Defense, which called for a police investigation, the BBC said.