September 6, 2013

In Peru, a new cash crop: Counterfeit greenbacks

Peru's criminal syndicates stepped up after a crackdown on Colombian counterfeiters.

By CARLA SALAZAR The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

A police officer examines counterfeit 100 U.S. dollar notes during a media conference in Lima
click image to enlarge

A police officer examines counterfeit $100 bills during a news conference in Lima, Peru, last year. Approximately $4.5 million U.S. and 4.4 million euros of counterfeit bills were seized at an illegal publishing house, police said.

Reuters file photo

click image to enlarge

Counterfeiters earn up to $20,000 in real currency for every $100,000 in false bills they produce.

JUST THE FACTS

PERU MOVES TO NO. 1: In the past two years, Peru has overtaken Colombia as the No. 1 source of counterfeit U.S. dollars, according to the U.S. Secret Service, protector of the world's most widely traded currency.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Over the past decade, $103 million in fake U.S. dollars "made in Peru" have been seized, nearly half since 2010, Peruvian and U.S. officials say. Unlike most other counterfeiters, who rely on sophisticated late-model inkjet printers, the Peruvians generally go a step further, finishing each bill by hand.

THE U.S. TAKES NOTICE: The Secret Service opened a permanent office in Lima last year, only its fourth in Latin America, and has since helped Peru's police arrest 50 people on counterfeiting charges.

-- The Associated Press

Only $100 bills get shipped by counterfeiters to the United States, while $10s and $20s are sent to Peru's neighbors, Portocarrero said. Demand is particularly great in Argentina and Venezuela because currency controls make the dollar so coveted and they mostly circulate on the black market.

Counterfeiters employ the methods of cocaine traffickers to get their product abroad: Couriers carry notes in false-bottom suitcases, hide them in handcrafts, books, food products. People have even swallowed bills rolled up in latex for intestinal journeys.

PERUVIAN SYNDICATES

As far as Peru's police can tell, their nation's counterfeiting business is run by domestic syndicates.

Top bands include "Los Nique," for whom the 13-year-old was working when he was arrested in 2012. Its boss, Joel Nique Quispe, was also arrested last year and sentenced to 12 years in prison. With good behavior, he could be out in four years. The 13-year-old, who cannot by law be identified because he is a minor, was released. He was not charged because of his age. Another band is headed by Wilfredo Cobo, who is also in prison. First arrested in 2008, he was released two years later and arrested again last year. Portocarrero said Cobo used brothers in Italy, Spain and France to introduce counterfeit euros into Europe, routing them through Chile and South Africa.

For all their skill, says Portocarrero, Peruvian counterfeiters' handiwork will always get tripped up by the infrared scanner banks used to authenticate currency. That, he says, owes to their continued reliance on standard "bond" paper, the variety used by consumers that is available in stores and that easily disintegrates when wet.

If they were able to obtain "rag" paper, the cloth type used for banknotes, all bets would be off, Portocarrero said.

"The day they get it and perfect the finish a bit more, (their bills) will go undetected."

 

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