Police in Spain have broken up a gang behind the “most active” counterfeit euro note printing operation that has ever been discovered in the country.
In a Europol-backed operation, officers from Spain’s Policía Nacional arrested four people and seized fake banknotes worth €15,500 ($17,371).
Investigators said the organised criminal network behind the conspiracy, which was based in Tenerife, ran a sophisticated operation in which they printed fake €10 and €20 notes, raking in some €7,500 every month.
Police launched a probe into the gang’s activities in July 2018 when banks in Tenerife reported a marked increase in the number of fake €10 banknotes in circulation on the island.
Officers working on Operation Malla soon discovered that the convincing fakes were also being distributed across Europe.
During a raid on one Tenerife property that resulted in the arrest of the four suspects, police found a sophisticated printing system capable of producing counterfeit banknotes and fake ID.
Officers also seized computer and printing equipment, along with fake banknotes at various points of the production process.
Specialist Spanish counterfeit investigators said they were surprised at the quality of the fake notes, as well as the sophistication of the equipment that was used to produce them.
In a statement, Europol said: “[We] supported this operation by providing financial, technical and analytical support from the beginning and deploying a mobile office on the action day for on-the-spot support.
“As the European Union’s Central Office for Combating Euro Counterfeiting, Europol facilitates the exchange of information and provides expertise, criminal and forensic analysis, training, financial and technical support to law enforcement agencies inside and outside the European Union.”
Spanish police have advised members of the public to follow EU guidance on how to spot fake banknotes.
The European Central Bank (ECB) recommends that consumers use its “feel, look and tilt” method if they have any concerns that a banknote in their possession might be counterfeit.
The bank says that euro notes should feel crisp and firm, and that some sections should feel thicker than others.
When held up to the light, a watermark should become visible in the portrait window of euro banknotes, as should a security thread close to their centre.
If a genuine euro banknote is tilted, its silvery stripe should reveal a portrait of Europa in a transparent window, while an emerald number displays an effect of light moving up and down.
Kenyan central bank withdraws high-value notes as part of efforts to fight corruption and money laundering
The Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) has announced that it will withdraw 1,000-shilling ($10) notes from circulation at the beginning of October as part of the country’s efforts to combat widespread counterfeiting, money laundering and corruption.
Unveiling a range of new banknotes that are scheduled to be introduced to the country’s economy over the next few months, CBK Governor Patrick Njoroge said Kenyan citizens wishing to exchange 1,000-shilling notes must do so before 1 October, after which point they will cease to be legal tender.
Announcing the new bank notes during a press conference, Njoroge said: “[W]e have assessed the grave concern that our large banknotes—particularly the older 1,000-shilling series—are being used for illicit financial flows in Kenya and also other countries in the region.
“More recently we have seen the emergence of some counterfeits. These are grave concerns that would jeopardise proper transactions and the conduct of commerce in our currency.”
The withdrawal of the notes comes after President Uhuru Kenyatta vowed to crack down on corruption when came to power in 2013.
His critics have accused him of being slow to do so, noting the government’s failure to pursue top officials accused of financial wrongdoing.
Opposition MPs were quick to welcome the removal of larger notes from circulation, with some suggesting they should be withdrawn before the scheduled 1 October deadline.
Orange Democratic Movement Party (ODM) Chair John Mbadi has reportedly called for the 1,000- shilling notes to be taken out of circulation by 1 August, arguing that bringing the deadline forward would further curb illicit financial transactions and currency counterfeiting.
“The economy of the country has been distorted by black market activities that involve money,” Capital FM Kenya quotes Mbadi as saying.
“We expect a gazette notice to be issued to that effect so that we do not give room for people who have been operating and handling illicit money in this country from having time to clean and sanitise the same.”
Back in November 2016, the Indian government announced the withdrawal of 500 ($7.21) and 1,000 rupee banknotes in a move that was also intended to crack down on corruption and money laundering.
It was hoped at the time that the withdrawal of the notes would help eliminate counterfeit currency used by terrorist organisations active in the country.
Police in Europe arrest hundreds in operation targeting euro banknote dark web counterfeiters
Police forces across Europe have participated in a major joint operation targeting euro banknote counterfeiters operating on dark web illicit marketplaces.
A series of Europol-backed days of action, which took place from 19 November to 6 December, involved raids on more than 300 properties in 13 countries, resulting in the arrests of 235 suspects.
During the raids, a number of criminal assets were seized, including €1,500 (£1,713) in cash, a quantity of drugs, electronic devices including smartphones and computers, Bitcoin, and equipment that had been used for the mining of cryptocurrencies.
A number of weapons were also confiscated during the raids, including guns, knives and nunchaku.
German investigators involved in the operation also discovered two cannabis factories, while police in France uncovered an illegal euro counterfeiting print shop, as well as a marijuana planation.
The crackdown was launched after police in Austria dismantled an illegal banknote print shop in the city of Leoben in June of this year.
The owner of the shop is said to have been producing bogus euro banknotes of various denominations before offering them for sale on dark web marketplaces.
It is thought the Austrian counterfeiter sold some 10,000 fake banknotes to customers all over Europe.
After being handed evidence seized during the raid in Austria, Europol analysed data obtained from the alleged counterfeiter’s computer and decided to launch a coordinated operation targeting other bogus banknote traders in a number of EU countries, including Croatia, Cyprus, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland and the UK.
Congratulating officers who took part in the operation, Europol Deputy Executive Director of Operations Wil van Gemert said in a statement: “This joint effort highlights that complete anonymity on the internet and the dark net doesn’t exist.
“When you engage in illegal activity online, be prepared to have police knocking on your door sooner or later.
“Europol will continue to assist member states in their efforts of protecting the euro against counterfeiting, both in the real world as in the virtual one.”
Back in September, Europol announced that Polish police had taken down an illegal print shop in Gdansk that had been producing fake €50 banknotes.
The law enforcement agency said the alleged owner of the facility had been selling counterfeits on a number of dark web platforms for many years, and had built up a strong reputation.
He is currently facing up to 25 years behind bars.
Three European police forces break up major counterfeit currency rings
Police from Italy and France have broken up two organised criminal networks that are said to have been involved in the production and distribution of bogus banknotes across Europe.
Members of the two groups stand accused of producing fake notes in a number of denominations, including €20, €50 and €100, and of distributing counterfeit currency that caused economic damage estimated to be worth €4.5 million.
The Europol-backed operation that resulted in the disruption of the two gangs began earlier this year when investigators in France received intelligence relating to the distribution of counterfeit currency.
A subsequent probe led to the discovery of a Naples-based organised crime group that was producing the fake banknotes before shipping them off to a second gang in the French city of Nancy.
Once the French gang received the counterfeit notes, its members distributed them for circulation in France and other EU member states.
A Europol-assisted joint day of action that involved raids in both Italy and France last week resulted in the arrests of nine people in France.
In Italy, 14 members of the Naples-based gang were detained, while investigators also seized print shop equipment used to make the counterfeit notes.
News of the gangs’ break-up comes days after police in Bulgaria said they had made the largest seizure of counterfeit cash in the country for more than a decade.
A raid at a print shop in the Black Sea resort of Sunny Beach resulted in the seizure of fake euro and dollar bills with a face value of more than $14.3 million.
The discovery of the print shop was the culmination of a 10-month investigation conducted by Bulgaria’s interior ministry in cooperation with Europol and US intelligence.
Speaking during a press conference attended by Bulgaria’s Focus News Agency, Deputy Prosecutor General Ivan Geshev said: “We haven’t done a historical analysis, it could well be the biggest for the past 20 or 30 years.
“We found over €11 million and over $1.8 million in a different degree of completeness.”
The investigation resulted in the arrest of four suspects while they were in the process of making fake banknotes.
In a statement issued at the end of July, the European Central Bank said euro banknote counterfeiting remained low in first half of 2018, with 301,000 fake euro notes being withdrawn from circulation over the first six months of the year.
The majority of these (83%) were €20 and €50 banknotes.
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