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Nothing to declare except that, um, $135 billion
June 12, 2009 10:11 AM   Subscribe

Two Japanese men have been detained by Italian authorities after they were caught with $134.5 billion in US bonds and securities in a false-bottomed bag on a train heading for the Swiss border.

Real or counterfeit? Quantitative stealing? Japanese TV reports. And all this when Japan is pledging 'unshakable' faith in US Treasuries.
posted by grounded (99 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
The penalty for violating the law is 40 per cent of the money seized.

Ka-ching.
posted by Iridic at 10:16 AM on June 12, 2009


One way or another, some guy, somewhere in the world, is very very pissed off.

And he's probably the sort of guy that people try not to piss off, lest bad things happen.
posted by aramaic at 10:19 AM on June 12, 2009 [6 favorites]


In order to stop money laundering Italian law sets a ceiling of 10,000 euros per person for importing or exporting money without declaring it. The penalty for violating the law is 40 per cent of the money seized.

If the certificates were real, for Italy it would be like hitting the jackpot. The fine alone would amount to US$ 38 billion, five times the estimated cost of rebuilding quake-devastated Abruzzi region. It would help Italy’s eliminate its public deficit.


Well, damn! That's what we ought to do! Get a bunch of money launder-ers and make a law to take their money!

I'm totally sure with our upright police force that will totally bring us justice and income!
posted by yeloson at 10:19 AM on June 12, 2009


"What caught the policemen’s attention were the billion dollar securities." Yes, that would raise an eyebrow or two.
posted by boo_radley at 10:22 AM on June 12, 2009 [6 favorites]


U.S. government Kennedy bonds worth a billion dollars each

Forget Ben Franklins; some rap songs need to be rewritten.
posted by msalt at 10:24 AM on June 12, 2009 [13 favorites]


Were they being pursued by a battered and bruised Bruce Willis?
posted by Pollomacho at 10:25 AM on June 12, 2009 [10 favorites]


If these bonds are indeed real, they would be non-negotiable, i.e. non-transferrable. Therefore it is unclear what is going on here or who could profit. The only thing I can think of is that they were trying to avoid paying taxes on the notes.

However, this would be a stupid move. You'd think they'd get a beautiful Swiss or Italian woman to act as a "mule" as most drug smugglers do. My experience on European rail is that the police make a beeline for any persons who do not look European. Seems dumb and a big fake.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:28 AM on June 12, 2009


They're probably North Korean forgeries, a petty attempt at sabotaging confidence in US bonds, as a lot of comments speculated in the "quantitative stealing" link. Just more of the usual crap political theater from the idiots of international espionage.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:28 AM on June 12, 2009


Bonds are a bunch of paper, and especially such high denomination bonds would amount to maybe a hundred pages, I call shenanigans, they either knew what they were looking for, or the whole thing is BS.
posted by dearsina at 10:29 AM on June 12, 2009


There's no way these guys were lone ducks; this has to link back to a trans-national organized crime syndicate, and that the men were caught in Italy seems to support the notion that that country remains at the center of a still only dimly understood criminal web.
posted by ornate insect at 10:29 AM on June 12, 2009


Interesting comments in that Financial Times blog link. One commenter quotes an Italian report with the police saying that these bonds were dated 1934, which would mean that they're almost certainly fake (too much money for the 30s...). Another links to this Spanish news report about fake US bonds, also dated to the 30s. My Spanish pretty much sucks, but I think it says that those had a face value of $16 billion and a current value of $1.5 trillion.

Weird coincidence? Confusion between the two incidents? It's all very interesting.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:29 AM on June 12, 2009


This doesn't make sense on so many levels. You'd have to be an idiot to think that you could get away with moving that kind of dough under the table - genuine or otherwise.
posted by Xoebe at 10:30 AM on June 12, 2009


OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOPS.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 10:33 AM on June 12, 2009


Not sure why this part of the Asiatimes piece is online...looks like editor comments were posted to the original story.



For AsiaNews a few points need considering:

1. When it comes to Italy the world press has tended to focus on Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi’s personal problems ....

posted by lslelel at 10:34 AM on June 12, 2009


Billion-dollar bonds? That sounds so very fake to me.

If not, Italian public finances are going to get a shot in the arm. Not that big a shot in the arm, though: the Italian public sector debt runs at about 1.8 trillion dollars.
posted by Skeptic at 10:36 AM on June 12, 2009


Yeah, even trying to negotiate ONE of these bonds, at $500 million, surely wouldn't fly anywhere and would get you arrested. The espionage/sabotage idea sounds much more plausible.
posted by darkstar at 10:36 AM on June 12, 2009


They have to be fake. Seriously if you had that much money why would you hire two Asians in Italy to take your 135 billion dollars around country borders? I blame the North Koreans. This sounds like a plot they would come up with. They have done some retarded things in the past.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 10:37 AM on June 12, 2009



"There's no way these guys were lone ducks; this has to link back to a trans-national organized crime syndicate, and that the men were caught in Italy seems to support the notion that that country remains at the center of a still only dimly understood criminal web."

That is offensive to many legitimate businessmen, especially in the olive oil importing and waste management business.
posted by Iron Rat at 10:40 AM on June 12, 2009 [14 favorites]


What caught the policemen’s attention were the billion dollar securities.

The $20K check I drove over to the escrow office raised my blood pressure a good bit. $20K. In my pocket. In my car. In this traffic. "Hey, asshole, why don't you use a blinker once in a while!"

Those fellas had $134B in a carry-on.

Had I been one of them: "What caught the policemen's attention were the buckets of sweat rolling off notyou's brow and the shit stain sliding down his trouser legs."
posted by notyou at 10:42 AM on June 12, 2009 [12 favorites]


God damn it, so that's where those went. I was starting to worry.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:43 AM on June 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


It just goes to show you can't be too careful.
posted by Schmucko at 10:44 AM on June 12, 2009 [10 favorites]


Astro Zombie: "God damn it, so that's where those went. I was starting to worry."

man, Astro Zombie, stop screwin' up the world economy.
posted by boo_radley at 10:45 AM on June 12, 2009


I hate carrying change.
posted by steef at 10:48 AM on June 12, 2009 [5 favorites]


So this was after they figured out how to get the bus off the cliff, right?
posted by sourwookie at 10:51 AM on June 12, 2009 [8 favorites]


Is there anywhere online you can see what the actual notes issued look like?
posted by delmoi at 10:52 AM on June 12, 2009


I'm confused. Somewhere in the world there are pieces of paper, little physical objects, that are solely worth $1 billion just by their physical existence? Just the arrangement of ink? I understand why pieces of paper worth $100 exist, but surely there's more control and management of $1 billion? Aren't "negotiable bearer bonds" just a fiction made to satisfy the plot needs of caper movies?
posted by Nelson at 10:53 AM on June 12, 2009 [5 favorites]


TUNE IN NEXT WEEK to see what happens next.
posted by The Straightener at 10:57 AM on June 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


That's one expensive vacation.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:57 AM on June 12, 2009


I just took a piece of paper, wrote "Official US Treasury Bond: 1 Gajillion Dollars" on it and put it in my pocket. Now I will walk around until someone catches me.
posted by snofoam at 11:00 AM on June 12, 2009 [5 favorites]


Is there anywhere online you can see what the actual notes issued look like?

Maybe silimar to this. Via Zero Hedge.
posted by preparat at 11:03 AM on June 12, 2009


Small mix up. They weren't carrying US treasuries, they were carrying Nigerian. The total value of the 134 Billion notes is really only 12 cents (US Dollars).
posted by ShadowCrash at 11:14 AM on June 12, 2009


I imagine these are fake and were going to be used in some sort of large scale scam. The sort where you can bring the mark into the locked box room of an expensive bank and show them how much money you have backing you.
My second guess is that Karl Rove right now is emitting a very loud "Foiled again!"
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:16 AM on June 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Didn't this also happen to Don Johnson? Yes that Don Johnson.
posted by chillmost at 11:16 AM on June 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


One way or another, some guy, somewhere in the world, is very very pissed off.

Can get him in here to comment? I'll spot him the five bucks.
posted by rokusan at 11:18 AM on June 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


I like how the post title is rounded to the nearest significant billion dollars. Who argues about $500 million! :)
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 11:20 AM on June 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Actually, this sort of seizure seems to be common . (sorry, in Spanish) In this case it was 1.5 trillion in US bonds dated 1934. (Completely unrealistic in terms of debt at that time, so obviously forgeries.)
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:25 AM on June 12, 2009


Maybe the bonds were a baptismal gift for one of the dude's godchildren?
posted by yeti at 11:27 AM on June 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Just to clarify my misreading of the above article. The Spanish police seized one suitcase with 16 billion in forged currency and bonds. The suitcase with 1.5 trillion was only alleged to have existed and was part of the scam. Maybe the same scam the Japanese were going to try to pull off.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:31 AM on June 12, 2009


What I find most suspicious about this story is the complete lack of YouTube vids of the two of them engaging in gun-fu as the law closes in, preferably with the two of them running along cable-car cables while shooting at each other, one of them running backwards at full speed. Grifters these days, they got no style.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:45 AM on June 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Small mix up. They weren't carrying US treasuries, they were carrying Nigerian. The total value of the 134 Billion notes is really only 12 cents (US Dollars).

If you give me two cents to bribe the guards, I'll pay you back 6.
posted by 7segment at 11:52 AM on June 12, 2009


How is this not a bigger deal, fake or no? Numbers that big have to be tied to an agenda and would have a significant effect on the global economy. Is there (lots of) something(s) I'm not understanding here?
posted by iamkimiam at 11:56 AM on June 12, 2009


Man, every time I sit down and start writing a screenplay reality goes and one-ups me.
posted by graventy at 12:05 PM on June 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


Is there (lots of) something(s) I'm not understanding here?

Likely, the biggest reason the story isn't getting much press is that the probability of it being anything other than a hoax or scam are so low. As one of the articles pointed out, if these bonds were the real deal, that would make these two guys the fourth largest holders of US bond debt, ahead of the UK and just behind Russia. It's next to impossible that these bonds aren't fakes. And of course, Italy's a place with a well-established history of trafficking in forged documents, so that creates more cause for skepticism. Considering the potentially negative impacts of reporting this straight without getting all the facts first, I'm sure the US press are skeptical that this story really amounts to anything and are holding out for more information.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:10 PM on June 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


A billion here, a billion there...pretty soon you're talkin' real money!
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:10 PM on June 12, 2009


Who issues a billion dollar bond? The largest US was half a billion though. Wow. Somethings smells fishy here.
posted by caddis at 12:11 PM on June 12, 2009


So I was curious about these "Kennedy bonds" mentioned (huge denominations have always fascinated me for some reason), and tried to find out more.

Why are the only mentions I can find of these "billion-dollar Kennedy bonds" in news stories about this heist? Can anyone point me to some more information about them (if such a thing even exists)? I always thought the Woodrow Wilson $100,000 note was the largest denomination of U.S. currency out there (and yes, I realize these bonds aren't technically "currency").
posted by Doofus Magoo at 12:26 PM on June 12, 2009



If I ever need to move 135 bil in notes, I'll fold them into triangles and paste them in the middle of a bunch of crap in scrapbooking albums and hire a sweet little old annoying Grandma type to take them across. When it gets to that point in the search, she'd have the feds practically begging her to put them away.
posted by aquafortis at 12:39 PM on June 12, 2009 [7 favorites]


But even as a fake story or a hoax, this isn't 2 guys printing up 1B bonds in designed in Photoshop, right? What I mean is, you have to have some connections and an agenda and a plan to seriously attempt to do this. A backstory, if you will. Otherwise you're just two guys with a suitcase full of paper.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:41 PM on June 12, 2009


i wonder what else was smuggled over that border while the cops were getting all crazy over those fake bonds
posted by pyramid termite at 12:43 PM on June 12, 2009 [7 favorites]


"Why are the only mentions I can find of these "billion-dollar Kennedy bonds" in news stories about this heist?"

Well, it might be because they likely don't exist. One comment on the fourth link cites another Bloomberg article which notes:
Such high denominations would not have existed in 1934, the purported issue date of the notes, Mecarelli said. Moreover, the “Kennedy” classification of the bonds doesn’t appear to exist, he said.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:46 PM on June 12, 2009


Otherwise you're just two guys with a suitcase full of paper.

Well, I think that's to some extent what the press in the US is holding out to see.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:47 PM on June 12, 2009


Oh My Goodness, this looks really bad.

From the first link:

3. During the Second World War several countries at war printed and put in circulation perfectly counterfeit enemy money. It is also historically established that some central banks, like the Bank of Italy 65 years ago, issued the same securities twice (identical registered number and code). This way they could print more money with legal tender than they officially declared. The main difference though is that 65 years ago the world was involved in a bloody war, which is not the case today.

The fact that the bonds are dated 1934 is perfectly congruent with the possibility that these bonds are actually forgeries dating from WWII, and were produced by the Italian government under Mussolini.

They may have been seized at the Italian border on the way into Switzerland because they originated in Italy and have been sitting there somewhere since WWII, essentially without value and relevant only as historical curiosities.

So why would anyone want to take them into Switzerland at this particular moment?

I can only think of one thing.

Banks in trouble need increased fractional reserves-- cash on hand in other words-- to avoid failing, and these perfect forgeries would be the absolutely ideal injection of cash to keep a failing bank afloat.

Sitting in the vault of a massive, established Swiss bank, few people would think to question their authenticity.

If these guys had a buyer, as I think they almost certainly did, that means there is at least one major Swiss bank in dire straits.

But the appetite of financial collapses is such that they can't eat just one bank, they must have the whole bag.

Therefore, the whole structure of Swiss banking is probably much, much shakier than any outsider has realized to this point.

Get ready to duck (and cover).
posted by jamjam at 12:54 PM on June 12, 2009 [9 favorites]


saulgoodman: Well, it might be because they likely don't exist.
Kind of what I was getting at. Incidentally, 1934 (apparently the issue date of these forged notes) was the only year the Federal Reserve issued the Wilson $100,000 bill (I think it was issued when the U.S. government started buying up all of the gold).
jamjam: They may have been seized at the Italian border on the way into Switzerland because they originated in Italy and have been sitting there somewhere since WWII, essentially without value and relevant only as historical curiosities.
You realize that $135b in 1934 is $2 trillion in 2008 dollars? I'll grant that Mussolini was probably not known for his macroeconomic prowess, but the idea that he printed up counterfeits that were worth several times more than all of the U.S. currency in circulation at the time (M0 -- see here) is a bit of a stretch.
jamjam: Banks in trouble need increased fractional reserves-- cash on hand in other words-- to avoid failing, and these perfect forgeries would be the absolutely ideal injection of cash to keep a failing bank afloat. Sitting in the vault of a massive, established Swiss bank, few people would think to question their authenticity. If these guys had a buyer, as I think they almost certainly did, that means there is at least one major Swiss bank in dire straits.
/facepalm
posted by Doofus Magoo at 1:04 PM on June 12, 2009 [5 favorites]


Banks in trouble need increased fractional reserves-- cash on hand in other words-- to avoid failing, and these perfect forgeries would be the absolutely ideal injection of cash to keep a failing bank afloat.

Sitting in the vault of a massive, established Swiss bank, few people would think to question their authenticity.


Oh come on. I seriously doubt that swiss banks can just 'magically' discover new reserves in their old vaults without some serious analysis, certainly not 134 billion dollars.
posted by delmoi at 1:17 PM on June 12, 2009


I have two questions:

1. How would Italy even recoup the 40%? I mean assuming there's one guy responsible who could write them a check, instead of making these two poor schmucks wash dishes for the next 70,000 years.

2. If they are fake - $135 billion? Seriously? Why not just write a giant cardboard novelty check for One Jillion Dollars and attempt to cash it at a pawn shop?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:21 PM on June 12, 2009 [5 favorites]


57s aka Chrysanthemum bonds As far as I know the last person to negotiate one of these bonds(and live) was Al Haig
posted by hortense at 1:29 PM on June 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Considering the potentially negative impacts of reporting this straight without getting all the facts first, I'm sure the US press are skeptical that this story really amounts to anything and are holding out for more information.

This would be the same US press that reported about stuff like WMDs and yellowcake?
posted by grounded at 1:30 PM on June 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


hortense: 57s aka Chrysanthemum bonds As far as I know the last person to negotiate one of these bonds(and live) was Al Haig

What
posted by Doofus Magoo at 1:36 PM on June 12, 2009


This would be the same US press that reported about stuff like WMDs and yellowcake?

Well, yeah, but they had Uncle Sam on their ass pressuring them to report that stuff. This time around, the pressure would probably go the other way.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:38 PM on June 12, 2009


A lot of people are promulgating the idea that this was all a hoax. But no one is addressing the issue of cashing in on these bonds. How were the hoaxers going to turn a profit? The know-how and capital needed to create good forgeries would imply that the people behind this weren't dumb enough not to think up an exit strategy, so what would it be?
posted by prunes at 1:42 PM on June 12, 2009


This is a hoax. The italian financial police notes that the bonds are "Federal Reserve" bonds, which do not exist -- the US issues bonds from the Treasury. Fake bonds with massive face values claiming to be from the Fed has been an issue in the past, just not in this size.

This is a big deal because it's had potential to move the markets in a big way if it turned out to be true, as only a handful of central banks hold that much in reserve. The possibility of Japan getting rid of their US dollar holdings is too delicious for conspiracy buffs and those that wish the demise of the dollar. In reality, it's only one of many cases of fakes.
posted by amuseDetachment at 1:52 PM on June 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


so what would it be?

If I'm not mistaken, I think they were going to try to buy Switzerland. And they nearly got away with it!
posted by yeti at 1:53 PM on June 12, 2009


If I'm not mistaken, I think they were going to try to buy Switzerland. And they nearly got away with it!

Oh, for the love of pete, they were trying to buy the world! I mean, come on, how many times did Bowie have to tell you his sinister plan? He told you! He told you straight to your face, and he still almost got away with it!
posted by aramaic at 2:11 PM on June 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Darn meddling kids and their dog.
posted by darkstar at 2:15 PM on June 12, 2009


When caught, did the perps strike an Asian Pose? Pouty face with two little horns, maybe?
posted by VikingSword at 2:15 PM on June 12, 2009


If I'm not mistaken, I think they were going to try to buy Switzerland. And they nearly got away with it!

they should have known that swiss cheats have too many holes in them
posted by pyramid termite at 2:16 PM on June 12, 2009 [5 favorites]


It's probably Hiro and Ando. Primatech put them up to it.
posted by seandq at 2:35 PM on June 12, 2009


The Japanese connection makes me think they were Black Eagle Trust bonds.
posted by the cuban at 2:39 PM on June 12, 2009


This has North Korea written all over it. For some reason there is a significant amount of NK sympathisers living in Japan.
posted by PenDevil at 3:14 PM on June 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Such high denominations would not have existed in 1934

Probably not under the name "Kennedy bonds", in any case.
posted by msalt at 3:34 PM on June 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


the cuban: The Japanese connection makes me think they were Black Eagle Trust bonds.

Or maybe they were planning to bribe Shepherd Wong into giving them the world's best egg salad recipe.
posted by Greg_Ace at 3:41 PM on June 12, 2009


Why not just write a giant cardboard novelty check for One Jillion Dollars and attempt to cash it at a pawn shop?

I did that years ago in Mississippi, and here's the beauty part: the guy at the pawn shop misread it and gave me TEN Jillion Dollars. Life's been pah-rit-ty sweet since then.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:01 PM on June 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


I saw this in the Daily Yomiuri yesterday, but it was in the sidebar with the "little stories from around the world" section that has short bits of things, like "Libyan expected to take UN post" and "Boy rescued from Tiger." I immediately thought, come on, where's the rest of the story! Forgeries or no, the whys and huhs behind this are just begging to be told.

And PenDevil, the NK sympathizers? They're Koreans. A lot of them are descendants of Koreans brought over before and during WWII for cheap labor. They were allowed to stay behind after the war, but, even as third generation residents of Japan, are still considered non-Japanese citizens (though they can pursue citizenship, it is a nasty, difficult process), subject to racism and predjudice. Then the Korean war happened. Some people's families were from the area that became the North, and hold loyalties to it, some people's families were from the South. Sympathizer is kind of a strong word for it.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:09 PM on June 12, 2009


Don't know if it's true or not, but jamjam's theory is a very interesting one, as it gives a possible motivation to whomever might want to buy these things.
delmoi: Oh come on. I seriously doubt that swiss banks can just 'magically' discover new reserves in their old vaults without some serious analysis, certainly not 134 billion dollars.
I think the idea would be to pretend that these are already existing cash reserves, which would make the bank(s) look more stable then they really are. That way they can say "yeah, we've got enough cash to handle any contingency" - thus calming their investors.
posted by Kevin Street at 4:20 PM on June 12, 2009


I feel sorry for the two guys.

I mean, a 40% penalty? That would leave them with only $81 billion worth!

Take *that*, smugglers!
posted by markkraft at 4:54 PM on June 12, 2009


"If these guys had a buyer, as I think they almost certainly did, that means there is at least one major Swiss bank in dire straits."

Banks are international, and assuming that these are perfect counterfeits able to snuggle up with the real thing, such bond securities can essentially become digital in the blink of an eye and wind up anywhere.

Going out on a limb by suggesting that they already had a buyer does not mean much, other than the fact that someone in the financial industry liked the idea of getting $135 billion worth of counterfeit $$ at fire sale prices. (i.e. free money.)
posted by markkraft at 5:17 PM on June 12, 2009


57's
posted by hortense at 6:54 PM on June 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


"For some reason there is a significant amount of NK sympathisers living in Japan."

That's because they are North Koreans. Or, rather: Japan forcibly brought over lots of Koreans before WWII (before there was a North or South Korea), and even after they were free to leave, post WWII, many stayed. They are free to take Japanese citizenship, but since they weren't exactly voluntary immigrants, a lot of those folks kept their original citizenship. About half of those folks were from what later became South Korea, and half from North Korea (actually, I'm guessing on the proportions, just based on the physical area of the Koreas, and the fact that South Korea was less populated back then). So you've got a decent number of North Koreans (many of which were born and raised in Japan, and never actually been to North Korea), who go to Korean schools (which are more often North Korean than South Korean, I dunno why). The vast majority of these, of course, are North Korean on paper only, having no particular tie to the country. But some small section of those are, of course, going to be sympathizers.

There are very, very few non-Korean NK sympathizers in Japan. I'm sure some of the extremist Marxist groups are NK sympathizers, but that number is WAY lower than it was back in the...what...60's or 70's? (My knowledge of exact numbers and years is hazy).
posted by Bugbread at 7:21 PM on June 12, 2009


You know, it is odd... I just had a guy buy my bicycle on Craigslist with one of those 500 million dollar bonds and he asked me to send the balance to a friend of his in Nigeria. I wonder if I should alert the authorities... It is possible I am being scammed.
posted by jcworth at 8:35 PM on June 12, 2009


It is possible I am being scammed.

Don't be such a wimp. The guy sounds legit to me.
posted by codswallop at 9:56 PM on June 12, 2009


Likely, the biggest reason the story isn't getting much press is that the probability of it being anything other than a hoax or scam are so low.

What sort of an explanation is that?!

Do you really think, "People attempt largest scam of all time, fail," isn't going to sell papers?

It's been one of the things that's been disconcerting me recently - that stories that would appear to sell a lot of papers like this one appear in tiny sites, I scoff that they're fake, and then they finally appear on something reputable and I wonder, "Why aren't papers all over this?! Billions in fake bonds? Sounds like a classic New York Post headline!"
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:34 PM on June 12, 2009


That $8 Billion Don Johnson incident chillmost links to a nice article about came to mind immediately reading about the current securities seizure:

March 13, 2003

Here's a mystery for Nash Bridges: What was actor Don Johnson doing in a car in Germany last November with a suitcase containing credit notes and other securities that customs officials said were worth $8 billion?
...
The events leading up to what has become a public-relations disaster for Johnson began when German customs officials stopped a car near the Swiss border Nov. 6. With Johnson in the car were his personal assistant and an unnamed Swiss financial advisor. Litz said they had been in Zurich for a meeting with unnamed Americans, potential investors in a slate of movies Johnson was to produce.


Johnson's explanation has always seemed pathetically feeble to me, and I've wondered a lot about what really might have been happening there, but the parallels to the present story are undeniable.

Could something similar to what I was suggesting above-- that a troubled bank was trying to do something under the table to increase its cash reserves-- have been going on back in November 2002?

Here's what I was able to find in a BusinessWeek article dated June 19, 2002 :

Germany's Teetering Banks
Bankruptcies and near-bankruptcies sparked by bad loans, overcapacity, and a sagging economy are roiling the sector
...
In fact, German banks haven't been very safe at all of late. Recent months have seen a string of bankruptcies and near bankruptcies -- and financial experts caution that more could come...

Many banks have started cutting costs. But driving up profits and restoring health to the banking sector will take time. In the meantime, other banks -- especially small institutions with limited capital -- could run into difficulties. Says the Frankfurt banker: "This is going to be a rough ride." The reputation of German banks being "safe as houses" will be tested as never before.


Given this, and other stories along similar lines I looked at, it seems entirely possible to me that Johnson and his companions were ferrying these securities from Switzerland to a German bank or banks in difficulties. No one has raised doubts about the the authenticity of those instruments as far as I can see, however-- and for all I know the whole thing may have been a legitimate transaction carried out clandestinely to avoid the publicity which could have doomed the banks in question regardless.
posted by jamjam at 10:52 PM on June 12, 2009


Had I been one of them: "What caught the policemen's attention were the buckets of sweat rolling off notyou's brow and the shit stain sliding down his trouser legs."

I'll bet those nifty new flu-detecting monitors in the airports are a mighty handy way of finding out who's engaging in high-risk behaviour.

And was it a dream, or are there now airports with heartrate/pupil dilation monitoring? Biometric detection of stressed individuals?
posted by five fresh fish at 11:12 PM on June 12, 2009


But even as a fake story or a hoax, this isn't 2 guys printing up 1B bonds in designed in Photoshop, right? What I mean is, you have to have some connections and an agenda and a plan to seriously attempt to do this. A backstory, if you will. Otherwise you're just two guys with a suitcase full of paper.

And a hell of a good distraction. I'll bet the person behind them got through pretty easily.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:25 PM on June 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Re the 57s aka Chrysanthemum bonds, it seems likely to me that a huge haul was taken from Iraq. I wonder how that was laundered, and whether that is related to the economic disaster.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:36 PM on June 12, 2009


Pallets of shrink wrapped 100s require laundry?I believe the money shipment from the NYFed set a record and doesn't take into account the pre invasion bribes made by special forces to Iraqi Generals.
posted by hortense at 12:28 AM on June 13, 2009


Chrysanthemum is the symbol of japanese royalty, the bonds were issued in the 57th year of the emperor's reign
posted by hortense at 12:33 AM on June 13, 2009


Yes, and they were a means to use the wealth that was looted from the rest of Asia. Likewise, there was a looting of Iraq. A lot of physical wealth ended up in someone's hands. That loot will also be converted to bearer bonds of some sort, I should think.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:39 AM on June 13, 2009


I guess it's also possible that the Japanese fellows didn't have a buyer for their bonds at all. Maybe they were on their way to Switzerland to put the lot in a safe deposit box or something until they could figure out what to do with them.
posted by Kevin Street at 1:07 AM on June 13, 2009


I think the idea would be to pretend that these are already existing cash reserves, which would make the bank(s) look more stable then they really are. That way they can say "yeah, we've got enough cash to handle any contingency" - thus calming their investors.

Yeah, but that means that the banks declared reserves would have to rise by 134 billion dollars in one quarter. You don't think anyone would question that?
posted by delmoi at 1:12 AM on June 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't know. It's all supposed to be secret, right? If a Swiss bank says they've got an account worth umpty billion dollars, no one outside the bank can say who that account is for. It could be for a government, or some rich dicator who looted a government's treasury, or anybody.

Granted, it's not a perfect plan. But if some rich executive types screwed up and got desperate who knows what they might do. And they might not try to use all the bonds.
posted by Kevin Street at 1:31 AM on June 13, 2009


Maybe they were on their way to Switzerland to put the lot in a safe deposit box…

Should have put it in the mattress!
posted by five fresh fish at 1:44 AM on June 13, 2009


After all this, I believe this was just a rather unsophisticated "Nigerian-style" scam, and that those Japanese were the marks. Since the credit meltdown, and the Madoff and Stanford scandals, there are a lot of still-wealthy people who don't really know where to put their money. With formerly blue-chip investments turned to rubble, and many investment bankers and fund managers completely discredited, those moderately- to very-wealthy people turn to alternative investments and become easy prey for scammers. Because, guess what, rich !=clever or particularly well-informed.

So, this is the likely story: over some country-club (or massage parlour) acquaintance, these guys come into contact with somebody holding "billion-dollar" bonds in Italy, and "desperate" to unload them, as they're obviously not easily negotiable. Because of the circumstances (and a possibly shady origin of the money) he offers a 1:1000 exchange rate: 1 million dollars for each billion dollar bond. An offer you truly can't resist. End result: the Japanese walk away with a bunch of paper (I don't even think these were particularly convincing fakes: greed is a particularly opaque blindfold), and the con artists with 135 million dollars. Not bad for a single hit.

The only somewhat odd thing is the intervention of the "Guardia di Finanza". I don't think this was serendipity: these guys aren't just customs police, they're an elite corps going after organised crime and financial fraud. They were probably shadowing the Japanese (the origin of whose money may not have been entirely legit either) for a while.

Something tells me somebody is going to lose a whole bunch of fingers about this...
posted by Skeptic at 3:51 AM on June 13, 2009


Oooooooh noooooooo mr. bob harris
posted by clockzero at 11:37 AM on June 13, 2009


Hey, guy, can you break this Kennedy for me?
posted by dirtdirt at 8:27 PM on June 13, 2009


Can someone put together a FPP with more information about these 57s and the gold they come from? All the links in this thread seem a bit of the "George Washington was killed and replaced by Adam Weishaupt" bent to me. But obviously some of it is true. I've been really curious about these looting stories and so on since I read Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, which prominently features the creation, filling, sealing, discovery, and reopening of one of those booby-trapped underground gold stockpiles in the Philippines.
posted by donkeymon at 3:52 AM on June 14, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is that a stack of benjamins/
or Poor Richard's almanac/
Richard please/
I'm all of that, multiply by a milly/
plus one Kennedy/
ask not what your country/
can do for you/
ask for how much/
I just bought Switzerland pendejo.

posted by eddydamascene at 11:32 AM on June 14, 2009


Musical bonds
posted by hortense at 5:20 PM on June 14, 2009


Why not just write a giant cardboard novelty check for One Jillion Dollars and attempt to cash it at a pawn shop?

SSSHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!
posted by pompomtom at 11:13 PM on June 14, 2009


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