Paper Money

Authorities shut down note-faking lab in Bulgaria

Counterfeit euro notes, including fake watermarks and other security devices, were confiscated during a multi-agency raid in October in Bulgaria. Counterfeit Federal Reserve notes were also found and confiscated.

Images courtesy of Europol.

Bulgaria is among the select group of nations known in recent times for hosting the most prolific counterfeiters. In the early 2000s it was known for production of fake U.S. dollars, but since the country joined the European Union in 2007, euros have been added to the production line.

One workshop was in a hotel in the popular Black Sea resort of Slanchev Bryag (Sunny Beach). On Oct. 20, after a 10-month investigation, a Bulgarian special forces unit working in cooperation with the U.S. Secret Service and Europol stormed the Hotel Cantilena’s basement. Caught in the act were four people, including the owner of the hotel. Authorities found what several news accounts described as a sophisticated printing press along with watermarks and security threads. Bulgarian deputy chief prosecutor Ivan Geshev said that it was the “biggest illegal workshop dismantled in the past 11 years.” Counterfeit euro notes totaling €1,570,000, and $1,700,000 in counterfeit Federal Reserve notes were discovered in different stages of production.

In addition, between the hotel and 30 other locations around the country, finished notes with face values totaling separately €11.5 million and $2 million were confiscated and will be sent to Interpol for analysis. Many of them were ready for sale and distribution.

The Hotel Cantilena has mostly good reviews on Trip Advisor, with one saying “The Boss is fine man.” It is now closed.

The bogus euro problem is not confined to Bulgaria. Four days earlier, Europol joined French and Italian police to arrest 23 people and eliminate two crime syndicates that were allegedly responsible for damages totaling more that $5 million from the distribution of counterfeit notes. Included in this was at least the equivalent of $51,380 worth of €100 bills in France and Italy since 2016. 

According to a report by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, French police received a tip that led to the discovery of a print shop operated by an organized crime family in Naples that produced notes marketed by another group from Nancy, France. The latter syndicate would periodically drive from France to Naples, buy the notes, bring them back to France, and sell them there and elsewhere.

Nine people were arrested in France, while in Naples 14 perpetrators were arrested and charged with counterfeiting. Police also disassembled the print shop and took its printing and digital equipment into custody.

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