BEIRUT: Syrian authorities have shut down a money exchange office in Damascus and made several arrests as a part of a campaign to curb illegal currency trading, the SANA news agency reported Friday.
“In the framework of continued efforts to pursue currency traders on the black market, the authorities closed Al-Shaar Office for Exchange in Damascus and arrested a number of its staff over manipulation of exchange rate,” the agency said.
Tareq al-Zoubi, one of the arrested employees, was quoted by the agency as admitting that the office sold U.S. dollars provided by the central bank on the black market.
Zoubi said in his confession broadcast by Syrian television Thursday that Al-Shaar would use intermediaries to exchange Syrian pounds for dollars from the Central Bank of Syria, and would subsequently exchange the funds on the black market and take advantage of the difference in price.
Muna Saqr, another arrested staff member, was quoted confessing that the office had recently sold $220,000 on the black market. She also admitted that the office sold customers up to $10,000 above the $1,000 limit per individual set by the Central Bank.
The Syrian government has recently launched a campaign aimed at curbing dollarization of the economy. Syrian traders who price goods in foreign currency will face up to 10 years in jail, it said earlier this month.
Before the uprising in Syria erupted in March 2011, the exchange rate of the Syrian pound was as low as 50 to the U.S. dollar, but the rate has since increased fourfold on the black market.
Earlier this week, Syria moved to allow private banks to sell dollars to individuals in what it said was a bid to curb black market trade.
Syrians will be able to buy dollars at 175 Syrian pounds, higher than the official rate but still cheaper than the black market – where the rate often reaches 200.
The central bank sold dollars to 10 private banks at the rate of 173.27 pounds but did not disclose the amount, though it said it would cover the needs of the market until Monday.