A US businessman was caught trying to sneak $260,000 in cash into Israel hidden inside Oreo boxes, the Israel Tax Authority said in a report published Wednesday.
The incident, which occurred in the first half of 2018, saw the businessman handed a NIS 250,000 ($72,250) fine.
Saeed Mahmoud Yahya, an American resident of Puerto Rico who owns eight gas stations there, did not declare the money when he entered Israel via Ben Gurion Airport.
Customs officials searched his suitcase and discovered the $100 bills stashed inside the cookie boxes.
The case appeared in a report detailing fines the Tax Authority had handed travelers who entered Israel in the first half of 2018 and were caught with undeclared large sums of money. Yahya’s fine was the largest during those six months.
Yahya claimed the money was his profits from gas station dealings and that he had kept it in a safe for three years, according to the report.
After he presented US tax reports and claimed the money had been taken out of the bank accounts belonging to his business, the Tax Authority ruled that Yahya had not provided sufficient evidence regarding the money’s origin, noting that some of the labels used to wrap the bills bore a bank stamp from 2015.
The decision to hand Yahya the large fine was due to his “creative” attempts to fool Israeli officials, his failure to adequately explain the money’s origin and his failure to declare the money to US authorities when he left for Israel.
Three months later Yahya was again caught trying to enter Israel with $27,000 he didn’t declare. He said he had believed he only had to declare sums greater than NIS 100,000 ($28,900 in the current exchange rate). However, the law changed in February 2018 so that any sum above NIS 50,000 ($14,450) must be declared.
Yahya was fined an additional NIS 5,000 ($1,450) over that episode.