06/08/2009, 00.00
ASIA – ITALY
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US government securities seized from Japanese nationals, not clear whether real or fake

Bonds worth US$ 134.5 billion are seized. This is the largest financial smuggling case in history. But are they real? Concern over ‘funny money’ or counterfeit securities is spreading in Asia. The international press is silent.
Milan (AsiaNews) –  Italy’s financial police (Guardia italiana di Finanza) has seized US bonds worth US 134.5 billion from two Japanese nationals at Chiasso (40 km from Milan) on the border between Italy and Switzerland. They include 249 US Federal Reserve bonds worth US$ 500 million each, plus ten Kennedy bonds and other US government securities worth a billion dollar each.

Italian authorities have not yet determined whether they are real or fake, but if they are real the attempt to take them into Switzerland would be the largest financial smuggling operation in history; if they are fake, the matter would be even more mind-boggling because the quality of the counterfeit work is such that the fake bonds are undistinguishable from the real ones.

What caught the policemen’s attention were the billion dollar securities. Such a large denomination is not available in regular financial and banking markets. Only states handle such amounts of money.

The question now is who could or would counterfeit or smuggle these non-negotiable bonds.

In order to stop money laundering Italian law sets a ceiling of 10,000 euros per person for importing or exporting money without declaring it. The penalty for violating the law is 40 per cent of the money seized.

If the certificates were real, for Italy it would be like hitting the jackpot. The fine alone would amount to € (euro) 38 billion, five times the estimated cost of rebuilding quake-devastated Abruzzi region. It would help Italy’s eliminate its public deficit.

If the certificates are fakes the two Japanese nationals could get a very lengthy jail sentence for fraud.

As soon as the seizure was made the US Embassy in Rome was informed. Italian and US secret services were called in to assist the Italian financial police.

Some important international financial newspapers had already reported on the existence of ‘funny money’ circulating on parallel, i.e. unofficial, financial markets.

For AsiaNews a few points need considering:

1.      When it comes to Italy the world press has tended to focus on Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi’s personal problems rather than on stories like the bonds smuggling affair which has been front page on Italian newspapers.

2.      The fear of counterfeit bonds and securities has spread across Asia with the result that real securities are also considered with suspicion.

3.      During the Second World War several countries at war printed and put in circulation perfectly counterfeit enemy money. It is also historically established that some central banks, like the Bank of Italy 65 years ago, issued the same securities twice (identical registered number and code). This way they could print more money with legal tender than they officially declared. The main difference though is that 65 years ago the world was involved in a bloody war, which is not the case today.

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