Biggest-ever success against euro counterfeiters
An Italian criminal network that produced a quarter of all counterfeit euro banknotes in circulation has been dismantled by Europol.
It is believed to be the biggest-ever success against euro counterfeiters since the currency’s introduction.
Europol said the counterfeits were produced using “sophisticated printing methods” that “imitated” all the security features of genuine banknotes.
Officers from the Italian Carabinieri Corps (Carabinieri) and its specialised Anti-Counterfeit Currency Unit arrested 44 suspects and froze criminal assets worth eight million euro during raids in Italy on Wednesday (July 15).
This included the confiscation of 50 apartments, eight business premises, two farms, ten companies operating in various sectors, 12 vehicles and one luxury boat, with 22 bank accounts also frozen.
The investigation also uncovered “links” to the Italian criminal network, the Camorra.
Inquiries had started in October 2017 with the seizure of 50-euro banknotes in the province of the Italian city Benevento.
“Forensic examination of the banknotes confirmed that the counterfeits were produced using sophisticated printing methods, which requires both a high-level of technical expertise and good quality of machinery and raw materials. The counterfeiters imitated all main security features of genuine euro banknotes,” said Europol.
The criminal network is believed to have produced and distributed over the years more than three million counterfeit banknotes for a total face value of more than 233 million euro – which represents one quarter of all counterfeit euro banknotes detected in circulation since the introduction of the euro.
Europol says the network could “very well be the largest ever disrupted since the very first days of the euro currency”.
It believes the mastermind behind the criminal organisation has been involved in currency counterfeiting for more than 20 years.
“He had not only established the whole network in charge of the production of counterfeit euros and other currencies, but also organised their dissemination on the European market. The investigation uncovered links to the Italian criminal network, the Camorra. Other criminal affiliates sought new distribution channels in Italy and abroad,” it said.
In Naples in February 2018, preliminary investigations resulted in the seizure of almost 450,000 counterfeit 50-euro and 100-euro banknotes, with a total face value of 41 million euro, found hidden in barrels.
In July 2018, an illegal mint shop of 50-euro cent coins was also dismantled in the Italian province of Lombardy. Four suspects were arrested during these action days.
During this week’s raid, Europol deployed an expert to Italy to crosscheck operational information against its databases in real-time and provide specialised knowledge in euro counterfeiting ‘on the spot’.
Simultaneous actions coordinated by Europol also took place in France and Belgium during the operation.