Italy’s financial police (Guardia italiana di Finanza) has seized US bonds worth US 134.5 billion from two Japanese nationals at Chiasso (40 km from Milan) on the border between Italy and Switzerland. They include 249 US Federal Reserve bonds worth US$ 500 million each, plus ten Kennedy bonds and other US government securities worth a billion dollar each. Italian authorities have not yet determined whether they are real or fake, but if they are real the attempt to take them into Switzerland would be the largest financial smuggling operation in history; if they are fake, the matter would be even more mind-boggling because the quality of the counterfeit work is such that the fake bonds are undistinguishable from the real ones.
What caught the policemen’s attention were the billion dollar securities. Such a large denomination is not available in regular financial and banking markets. Only states handle such amounts of money.
The question now is who could or would counterfeit or smuggle these non-negotiable bonds.
Those sound like Bearer Bonds – at least the Kennedy ones do. We no longer issue those (nor does pretty much anyone else) for obvious reasons – they’re essentially money and can be had in VERY large size, making them great vehicles for various illegal enterprises.
But folks: This is $134.5 billion dollars worth.
If they’re real, what government (the only entity that would have such a cache) is trying to unload them?
If they’re fake, this is arguably the biggest counterfeiting operation ever, by a factor of many times. I’ve seen news about various counterfeiting operations over the years that have made me chuckle, but this one, if that’s what it is, is absolutely jaw-dropping.
I can think of two other explanations, that neither Karl nor the AsiaNews reporter considered. One, this might be the biggest heist in recorded history. I can’t imagine that a government that lost $134.5 billion dollars would immediately start trumpeting that fact to the world… in fact, they’d be dying to cover that up, which might explain why U.S. media hasn’t picked up the story and run crazy with it (somebody made some phone calls). Wow, you could make one heck of a caper movie out of that, inside job or not. Two, this might be a case of money that belonged to a government that no longer existed; like, say, Saddam Hussain’s Iraq. This seems less likely; while lots of the Iraqi treasury that was under the control of Saddam’s Baath party went missing, I haven’t seen any reports top the “tens of billions” mark. They already *made* this one into a movie, so no artistic avenue there.
Personally, I’m not entirely certain this isn’t a hoax. If it isn’t, though, I’m *really* hoping it’s a caper. Can you imagine the details that would come to light in the next few years?