HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - Across the country and in the Tennessee Valley, people are buying Iraqi dinar. They’ve been told it will one day rise sharply in value against the U.S. dollar, leading to a financial windfall for them.
Albertville resident Tim Jones is one of those who bought in, along with his pastor and several church members.
Years later, the payoff still hasn't come. A WHNT News 19 investigation also uncovered warnings from state regulators, the Better Business Bureau and financial experts calling dinar investment a scam.
Despite the warnings, many people remain invested. They continue to hold the physical currency - often purchased through private dealers at a markup - and point to specific claims as justification for buying in.
So are those claims, used to promote dinar as a good investment, fact or fiction?
WHNT News 19 took action to find out. Here's what our investigation found:
Claim #1: There will be a "revaluation" or "RV" of Iraqi dinar, raising its value against the U.S. dollar and leading to a payoff for the investor
Currency expert John Jagerson, of LearningMarkets.com, tells WHNT News 19 a "revaluation" of Iraqi dinar "could not happen" and "is not planned to happen."
Jagerson, who spent years researching the subject and authored an e-book called The Iraqi Dinar Scam: Why Buying the Dinar is for Dummies, adds that many of the "facts" dinar investors believe are actually false.
Jagerson thinks many dinar promoters are "perpetrating falsehoods" to increase the attractiveness of dinar; perhaps profiting off connections to dinar dealers, or exclusive website memberships and online advertising. State regulators agree, warning dinar promoters will "misrepresent history" to try to prove profits are possible.
As Jagerson explains, it's not in Iraq's interest to allow the dinar's value to rise - even through a small appreciation - since it would make it harder for the country to pay off debts, more expensive for foreign companies to do business and limit Iraq's post-war growth.
"Why would Iraq want to do to their currency what no other country wants to do?" Jagerson emphasized. "It would be like standing on your economic brakes with both feet. No one does it because it makes no sense."
He points out that dinar speculators also often confuse the economic terms revaluation and redenomination.
In a redenomination, often done when inflation has reached untenable levels in a country, old bills of larger denominations are swapped for new bills of smaller denominations. An old 25,000 dinar note could, for example, be exchanged for a new 25 dinar note. Under this "dropping the zeros" scenario, the purchasing power (or value) of the new note is the same as the old note. Nobody makes any money.
As Reuters reports, Iraq is on record as saying it eventually intends "to redenominate the Iraqi dinar to simplify financial transactions in an economy that is still heavily centralised." WHNT News 19 could find no credible reports of a stated intent to "revalue."
The U.S. State Department was also quite clear on the possibility of a "revaluation" in Iraq when contacted for comment. The State Department is sometimes blamed for holding up Iraq's "RV" along with various international bodies. Spokesperson Noel Clay however, gave WHNT News 19 the following statement:
"We are unaware of any plans by the Iraqi government to revalue the Iraqi Dinar. Iraq is a sovereign nation and the U.S. government plays no role in determining Iraq's foreign exchange policies."
Claim #2: There was a "revaluation" in Kuwait that shows something similar is possible in Iraq
Banking and financial experts confirm to WHNT News 19 that while market forces did cause Kuwait's currency to fluctuate in value during and after the 1990 Iraqi invasion, there was never a revaluation like many describe.
"Historically, a revaluation where your currency suddenly becomes worth many times what it used to be in the foreign exchange, that's never happened. Ever," Jagerson said firmly.
When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, the Iraqi dinar replaced the Kuwaiti dinar as currency. Kuwaiti dinar was essentially relegated to black market status. As explained on the Kuwaiti government's own website, banking stopped inside the country and invading Iraqis stole huge amounts of Kuwaiti dinar and riches.
After liberation, Kuwait's dinar was restored as that country's official currency and new banknotes were issued to keep all the stolen monies from being used. During this issuing, the pre-invasion rate was simply reestablished.
Iraq's history and circumstances are also very different from Kuwait.
A top executive at one of the nation's largest banks spoke on background to WHNT News 19. The executive explained that while it's possible some people may have profited from holding Kuwaiti dinar during a market-led appreciation post-liberation, expecting anything similar in Iraq is totally unrealistic.
A March 2014 Wells Fargo "International Strategy" memo explains further. It describes, in detail, why both 1960s West Germany and Kuwait are "poor precedent for Iraq." The memo also warns of elevated risks of illiquidity and fraud for dinar buyers.
Claim #3: President George W. Bush's Executive Order 13303 gives Americans special legal rights to hold or invest in Iraqi dinar
As you can see here, 13303 specifically protects the Development Fund for Iraq, as well as Iraqi oil products and interests - including ownership by U.S. persons - from any legal attachments or liens. It does not mention dinar, or investment in dinar, at all.
In this 2012 federal indictment against "BH Group" for fraud in the marketing and selling of Iraqi dinars, a grand jury also charges: "Any assertion that Executive Order 13303 promotes, protects, or regulates the sale of or investment in, Iraqi dinar is false." See page 5, charge 14.
Claim #4: The U.S. Treasury holds a large position in Iraqi dinars
The same federal indictment against "BH Group" states that, in fact, the "U.S. Department of the Treasury does not hold any Iraqi dinar for investment purposes and holds only a nominal amount for use."
Claim #5: I bought my dinar at a bank and it's a real currency, so it's clearly not a scam
Different U.S. banks appear to have purchased and sold dinar at various times in recent years. At time of broadcast, WHNT News 19 could find no banks currently exchanging the currency, although they may exist.
Those with knowledge of the banking industry tell WHNT News 19 banks are under no "official" restriction when it comes to buying or selling Iraqi dinar and that some may have stopped due to concerns over dinar speculation.
Jay Lawrence, Southeast Communications Manager for Wells Fargo, provided the following statement to WHNT News 19, explaining why the bank does not deal in dinar:
"Wells Fargo does not offer any consumer exchange for Iraqi dinar. Wells Fargo provides a wide range of foreign currency banknote services, generally for travel-related purposes to meet the needs of our customers traveling abroad. We do not, however, expect a high number of customers traveling to Iraq for business or leisure purposes in the near future.
As a result, we do not trade Iraqi dinar and we have no plans to change this policy in the future. We are aware that some websites or blogs promote the purchase of Iraqi dinar as an investment strategy. We disagree with the view that holding Iraqi dinar banknotes is a sound investment strategy."
The statement directly contradicts claims from dinar promoters that "1-800" numbers are, or will be set up at Wells Fargo, to exchange dinar for customers.
Jagerson, along with state regulators, emphasize that it's not Iraqi dinar itself that's the problem. "It's the investment in the currency as a way to make profits that’s the scam," Jagerson said.
Claim #6: There's a "Global Currency Reset" that banks, governments and global players like the World Bank or IMF are secretly coordinating and/or holding up
"That's probably one of the biggest fantasies in the scam - that there is some kind of government conspiracy behind it," Jagerson said.
A high-level executive at one of the nation's largest banks also laughed off the idea of a currency reset. The executive told WHNT News 19 private banks do not play a role in sovereign countries' exchange rate management.
The creation of any new global economic framework would also almost certainly have coverage in the respected financial media.
The International Monetary Fund's mission chief for Iraq, Carlo Sdralevich, was even more blunt, sending WHNT News 19 the following statement:
"No such a thing as a 'Global Currency Reset' exists. The IMF has no role in managing the Iraqi dinar or Iraq's exchange rate system.
We work with the Iraqi government and central bank to provide policy advice and technical assistance as part of our ongoing dialogue with them. Decisions on the exchange rate are taken by the country authorities in full independence and sovereignty.
There is no external constraint imposed preventing the Iraqi dinar's revaluation or devaluation. The stability of the dinar is the result of Iraq's own monetary and exchange rate policies."
Representatives from both the World Bank and U.S. State Department said the same, when asked by WHNT News 19 to clarify what operational powers they have in Iraq.
The State Department also addressed this document specifically, which some dinar supporters argue shows an official goal of a 1:1 exchange ratio of Iraqi dinar to U.S. dollars.
State Department spokesperson Noel Clay said of the document, "I am not familiar with it and cannot vouch for its validity. Regardless, it is from June 2005 and Iraq has undergone significant change since then. I would suggest that the document would hold little relevance to Iraq today."
Claim #7: Iraqi dinar is still a good buy, even without a "revaluation"
Even without an "RV" or "Global Currency Reset," some investors believe Iraq's oil reserves and development potential make dinar a good purchase. Some investors argue the market could drive a strong appreciation in the future.
In 2009, CNBC financial host Jim Cramer appeared to give dinar investment a green light, commenting on the nation's potential for growth post-war, especially with regard to oil companies. "I'm always in favor of owning the currency as a play," Cramer said. Click here to watch the clip.
Currencies don't behave like stocks though and as Jagerson points out, a rising GDP doesn't guarantee gains. In fact, history shows that for countries like Iraq, "Having a growing economy and growing oil exports does not equal a growing currency. Generally, it's exactly the opposite," Jagerson explained.
Jagerson started researching Iraqi dinar after a close friend invested, then turned to him for expert insight. Jagerson said he spotted the red flags immediately and wants to use his currency acumen to keep others from falling victim. He's produced several online videos to explain, in simple terms, why the arguments in favor of dinar investment don't add up. Click here to watch them.
After reading the findings above, some dinar investors may be feeling misled. Concerned individuals can contact the Alabama Securities Commission, which recently issued a statewide "Investor Alert" addressing dinar.
If you purchased the currency and feel you were sold false claims about its potential to rise in value, call (334) 242-2984 or 1-800-222-1253. You can also email email@example.com.
To read the warnings WHNT News 19 uncovered about dinar investment from state regulators, the Better Business Bureau and financial experts, click here.