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12 May, 2009 08:34

Fake roubles flood Russian market

The amount of counterfeit money in circulation in Russia is rising sharply. While the sums are not enough to destabilize the economy, they help fund organized crime and terrorism.

During a recent anti-counterfeiting operation in Russia’s South, dozens of printing and copy machines were discovered. This led to multiple arrests and the confiscation of 13 million fake roubles (roughly $400 000) – all this from a police raid on a den in the Caucasus Republic of Ingushetia.

The officers say it’s a good catch, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

In 2008 about four million dollars in fake rouble bank notes were found after they’d made their way into general circulation. That is almost a 30% increase on the previous year.

“Almost half a billion fake roubles, about 15 million dollars, were confiscated before they reached people’s wallets and purses. This is a record. But it’s thought a similar amount, or even more, remain in circulation,” Sergey Skvortsov from the counterfeiting fighting department at the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs told RT.

Experts say it’s an age-old crime which is undergoing a revival in these tough times, but the economic crisis is not the sole cause of the recent increase in forgery.

“Criminals usually spend from five-to-seven years to learn how to fake money, how to reproduce all differential signs. The last modernization of the Russian currency was in 2004, so the time has come for further modernization,” Marina Zabelkina from the Central Bank of Russia explained.

Today the features of rouble notes include a color change patch, watermarks, and random perforation.

Aleksand Mochalov, from a money printing plant in Moscow, says the Russian rouble is highly protected, but literally nothing is impossible for professional counterfeiters.

“Our currency is one of the safest in the world,” Mochalov asserted.

“We take part in many international conferences and experts all across the world confirm that. But counterfeiters are growing together with us; they improve their art as we try to protect the rouble. That’s why we can never stop developing,” he added.

Money-making is a complicated process; there are dozens of huge machines at the printing plant in Moscow, one of only two in Russia.

A blank sheet of paper goes through ten different printing presses before it becomes a bank note, but counterfeiters just rely on commercial printers and scanners.

Although at a record high, counterfeiting has never been so serious that it could threaten the national economy. The main problem for the country as a whole is how the fake money is spent. And the problem is not only linked to the economy, but also security:

“This will never go to support old people or orphans, it’ll neither go to charity. The major part of the profit from fake money crimes are dedicated to financing terrorism and extremism, purchasing weapons and explosives,” Sergey Skvortsov noted.

Last April the State Duma imposed more severe punishments for counterfeiting. The law now allows for up to 15 years in prison. Officials believe the harsher penalties will prove to be a deterrent.