By Hubert Walker for CoinWeek ….
In many places around the world, United States Federal Reserve Notes are accepted as an official currency and legal tender. In many other places, they exist in a quasi-legal limbo, often circulating on the grey and black markets.
And no matter where the notes are found or how they are used, both situations provide a strong incentive to foreign nationals to counterfeit money from the United States–especially the more useful, higher-denomination bills.
Just such an operation was broken up recently in Taiwan, where authorities arrested five people over several days last month in connection with a counterfeiting ring that produced at least $11.04 million in face value of U.S. $100 Federal Reserve Notes. According to a December 6 announcement by the New Taipei District Prosecutors Office, the court has approved the detention of the five alleged counterfeiters before they could destroy incriminating evidence or flee the country.
The Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB) in Taiwan began looking into the individuals in question after receiving tips about the making and selling of counterfeit U.S. $100 bills in various jurisdictions on the island nation. The CIB then carefully watched the operation for more than six months before they made any arrests.
What the authorities found were notes of such high quality that the CIB invited the United States Secret Service to come over from Hong Kong to examine the bills. Smaller local banks had apparently accepted the counterfeits, even though larger banks with more resources and better counterfeit detection devices had been able to recognize them as fake.
Investigators conducted four distinct raids over the course of November: one in Sanchong District in New Taipei; one in Shihlin District in Taipei; one in Luzhou District in Taoyuan; and one in Huatan Township in southwestern Chiayi County.
Besides the $11.04 million in counterfeit notes, agents also seized forged dollar straps (paper rings that hold bricks of specific denominations of banknotes together) – as well as ink used for printing the fake bills. Authorities have yet to find both the presses and the printing plates used in the operation.
Identified as the “leader” of the group, one Mr. Liao, aged 64, is alleged to have actually made the counterfeits. He is then accused of passing the contraband notes to one Mr. Chueh, aged 58, who is alleged to have then sold the counterfeits to interested parties for between about $11.47 and $14.75 USD (though the sales were apparently conducted in Taiwanese currency). The identities of the three other individuals arrested have not been released as of the time of writing.
All five stand to be charged with the crime of counterfeiting valuable securities. It is currently unknown how many notes had already been uttered into circulation.
The over $11 million haul makes this one of the biggest hoards of counterfeit bills ever seized in Taiwan. A U.S. Secret Service agent has identified the counterfeits to be from the same batch as notes that were seized in 2006. In that case, a Taipei branch of Mega International Commercial Bank lost about $2.16 million USD and nine suspects were tried. It remains a possibility that the five people involved in this latest ring may also be connected to that previous operation.
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