Wednesday, 28 January 2009

largest bust of a euro counterfeiting ring ever. Euros were tracked out of Italy to Spain

Italian police conducted an early- morning dragnet across the country to round up more than 100 people in what they described as the largest bust of a euro counterfeiting ring ever. About 700 of Italy’s Carabinieri police together with Rome’s anti-counterfeiting squad carried out 96 arrests in nine regions of the country. A total of 109 arrest warrants were issued. Four laboratories for printing fake euro bills and minting phony coins were discovered, and 1.2 million euros ($1.6 million) was sequestered during the investigation, police said. “This is the biggest operation ever conducted against euro counterfeiters,” Colonel Carlo Pieroni, who participated in this morning’s arrests, said in a telephone interview from Reggio Calabria. “This was a cartel set up to make and distribute fake money nationally and internationally.” The bills were tracked out of Italy to Spain, Germany and Lithuania, according to a statement. The investigation began in 2005 as a probe into mafia drug trafficking, Pieroni said, and the main counterfeiting activities were carried out in areas where the ‘Ndrangheta and Camorra mafias operate. The European Commission Anti-Fraud Office, or Olaf, and the European Central Bank took part in the investigation.
“Today’s operation again shows how multifaceted the Calabrian mafia is,” Giuseppe Pignatone, the chief mafia prosecutor in Reggio Calabria, told reporters today, according to Ansa news agency. The ‘Ndrangheta “takes advantage of every opportunity for illegal income.”
The operation was dubbed “Giotto” after the Italian master painter who ushered in the Renaissance. Some of the fake cash made it to Latin America, Pieroni said, which is an indication that some of the funny money may have been distributed as part of drug transactions. Phony bills worth 20, 50 and 100 euros were discovered, as were false 1- and 2-euro coins. While the quality of the forgeries was “average,” according to Martin Mund, a counterfeit expert at the ECB who aided in the probe, the ring may have produced as much as half of all the counterfeits withdrawn from circulation in 2007 and 2008.
“Anyone familiar with the security features of the banknotes could have realized that they were false without the use of any special equipment,” Mund said in written responses to questions by Bloomberg. The ECB has no plans to change any of the euro’s security features, he said. “The number of counterfeits in circulation is still very limited,” Mund said. Today’s operation follows a similar raid yesterday by finance police near Naples that netted 3.7 million euros worth of fake Algerian dinars, a half-ton of high-quality paper and a sophisticated printing press.

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