Smuggled bonds were counterfeit, says US

More than a week after the capture of two Japanese nationals carrying over $134 billion in US bearer bonds, the Obama administration has finally made a public comment about it.  Washington has declared the bills forgeries, which may answer some questions but create even more.  If these are fakes, who’s creating them — and why?

U.S. government bonds found in the false bottom of a suitcase carried by two Japanese travelers attempting to cross into Switzerland are fake, a Treasury spokesman said.

“They’re clearly fakes,” Stephen Meyerhardt, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of the Public Debt in Washington, said yesterday. “That’s beyond the fact that the face value is far beyond what’s out there.”

Italy’s financial police last week said they asked the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to authenticate the seized bonds, with a face value of $134 billion. Colonel Rodolfo Mecarelli of the Guardia di Finanza in Como, Italy, said the securities, seized in Chiasso, Italy, were probably forgeries.

Meyerhardt said Treasury records show an estimated $105.4 million in bearer bonds have yet to be surrendered. Most matured more than five years ago, he said. The Treasury stopped issuing bearer bonds in 1982, Meyerhardt said.

King Banaian asks the obvious question, and supplied the obvious answer:

So the questions become: who forged these bonds and towards what end? Who would have been willing to accept them as payment? How did these two persons come into possession of them, if they were not the forgers? … If it’s a fraud, the best guess is that it’s the North Koreans that have done this.

That’s hardly idle speculation.  Pyongyang has run a years-long counterfeiting operation of $100 bills, both to generate some illicit hard currency and to weaken the dollar.  That effort proved futile at the latter, but generating high-denomination counterfeits of bearer bonds would certainly do the trick.  The mistakes made in the process — the types of bonds created never actually existed, a rather crucial research error — would indicate that the people behind the effort didn’t have access to easily-found information.

Russia and China could also be behind it, but that seems less likely.  They don’t have to counterfeit American securities, especially China; they hold plenty of them.   If they want to crash the dollar, all they have to do is start dumping the legitimate securities they own. Producing counterfeits would only dilute their own holdings, perhaps the costliest example of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face ever.

It could also be the work of a few nutcases, or perhaps an attempt by a certain terrorist network to respond in kind to the economic warfare we’ve waged on them.  As William Pesek writes at Bloomberg, it has all the hallmarks of a Tom Clancy or John Le Carré novel, except for the explosions in the former and the ennui of the latter.