Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The False-Money Weapon

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The False-Money Weapon

Article excerpt

Europe's bankers, merchants, police forces, and more than 300 million consumers are on the alert for probable massive forgery of the euro. The new currency has been in daily use since Jan. 1 in 12 eurozone countries, in the remnants of their overseas empires (such as France's Reunion or French Guyana), and in the European microstates, Monaco, the Vatican, Andorra, San Marino, and Malta.

The alert is justified. Clandestine printing shops in Europe, the Balkans, and Latin America have already begun to mimic the products of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt, Germany, and other Eurozone central banks. The counterfeiters' wares, both as fake euros and as bogus banknotes of the vanishing national currencies, are already turning up in shop tills, newspaper kiosks, and vending machines, from Lisbon in the west to Greece and its islands in the east.

The immediate purposes of the false-money purveyors are simple: to acquire big-ticket items such as cars, boats, and big TVs; and to launder the false money in bank accounts automatically converted to euros or in exchange for crisp new and genuine euros.

There's nothing new about this, as the unit created by the European police (Europol) to fight the forgers knows well. Swindlers have been forging money since its creation in ancient Egypt, China, and the Greek city-states. From about 540 BC onward, local rulers, such as one on the Greek island of Samos, fought adversaries - in this case the Spartans - by counterfeiting their gold money. The aim was to destabilize their states and demoralize their societies.

This has continued in modern times. During the American Civil War, the Yankees and Confederates ran their printing presses overtime to falsify and debase each other's money.

In the 20th century, Britain printed false imperial German marks, hoping to undermine Kaiser Wilhelm's state and society during World War I. This was one among many causes of defeated Germany's disastrous inflation in the 1920s, when one needed a wheelbarrow full of banknotes to buy a loaf of bread. It helped undermine the Weimar Republic and assisted Adolph Hitler's rise to power in 1933.

Joseph Stalin dreamed of biting the American hand that was feeding him - President Hoover's food aid to starving Russia in the 1920s - by spreading phony $100 bills.

They were made in Weimar, Germany, and distributed throughout the Western Hemisphere from a Soviet spy center in Harlem, N.Y. The operation failed. Though the forgeries looked authentic, the Soviet secret police and Communist fellow travelers running the operation didn't have enough real American dollars to pay off accomplices and otherwise finance the venture.

During World War II, Hitler forced skilled slave laborers in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp outside Berlin to produce fiendishly accurate copies of British 20- and 50-pound sterling notes, and, toward the war's end, American $100 bills. …

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