Paper Money

European officials arrest counterfeiters in three countries

European law enforcement officials view printing presses used in manufacturing counterfeit euro notes in Europe. Also shown is a counterfeit €50 bank note believed produced by the operation.

Images courtesy of OCRFM and Times of Malta.

Hardly a week passes without news of another large European counterfeit bust, but the announcement of one by Europol on July 17 is said to be the biggest of them all.

It involved simultaneous actions by Europol, the Anti-Counterfeit Currency Unit of the Carabinieri in Italy, and France’s OCRFM (Central Office for the Suppression of Counterfeiting Currency) and resulted in the arrest of 44 people in Italy, France and Belgium, the seizure of €8 million in fake cash and an equal amount of property consisting of 50 apartments, eight business premises, two farms, 10 companies operating in various fields, 12 vehicles, one luxury yacht and 22 bank accounts. One of those arrested was Igor Vadim, the 32-year-old grandson of French actress Catherine Deneuve and the late director Roger Vadim. Multiple news reports identify the gang with the Camorra, southern Italy’s Mafia. 

An investigation started in October 2017 when spurious €50 bank notes were found in the city of Benevento, about 30 miles northeast of Naples. Examination revealed that the notes were made using sophisticated printing methods, a high level of technical expertise, and good quality machinery and raw materials. All main security features of genuine euro bank notes were replicated.

Authorities believe that, since they started, the alleged criminals printed and distributed more than 3 million counterfeit bank notes, for a total face value of over €233 million, equal to a fourth of all counterfeit euro notes found in circulation since their introduction in 2002. Europol says the network could be the largest ever disrupted since the very first days of the euro currency.

The brains behind the operation is said to have been involved in currency counterfeiting for more than 20 years. He not only established the whole production network for counterfeit euros and other currencies, but also organized their distribution on the European market.

Italy has been a hotbed for seizures. Europol says that in Naples, in February 2018, investigations resulted in the seizure of almost 450,000 counterfeit €50 and €100 bank notes for a total face value of €41 million, found hidden in barrels. In July 2018, an illegal mint for 50-cent coins was also dismantled in the Italian province of Lombardy. These actions led to the arrest of four suspects.

Eric Bertrand, a spokesperson for the OCRFM, told AFP press agency, “For several years now, 90 percent of high-quality counterfeit currency (in circulation) has come from Italy. The Camorra have a sort of monopoly on this market.”

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