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Italian counterfeiters linked to mafia

By Richard Giedroyc

Police in Carabinieri, Italy, arrested 56 people in the Naples metropolitan region in early December 2014, charging them with counterfeiting coins and primarily bank notes.

European Union officials have previously described the Napoli Group as being “the arch-enemy of the European Central Bank.”

European Union officials have previously described the Napoli Group as being “the arch-enemy of the European Central Bank.”

Officials acknowledged that those being arrested were suspected of being members of the Napoli Group. The crime organization has been dubbed the Napoli Group by Europol investigators. Who or what is the Napoli Group, you ask?

The Napoli Group is a counterfeiting crime group, likely closely associated with the Camorra Mafia crime syndicate believed to be based in Naples. The December 4, 2014 issue of The Independent newspaper in London said the Napoli Group may be responsible for making and distributing 90 percent of the fake money now circulating worldwide.

The Napoli Group is better than being well organized. It even has its own argot. Money is referred to as “postcards,” “gnocchi,” or “shoes,” while US dollars are referred to as ‘Americans’ or ‘embassies.’ Among the Napoli Group’s recent achievements is to successfully pass fake €300 bank notes in Germany, quite a task considering the European Union doesn’t have a bank note of that denomination!

According to the European Central Bank’s Anti-Counterfeiting Section chief Allister McCallum, counterfeiters tend to fall into one of three categories: amateurs with nothing more than an ink-jet printer; rogue states; and skilled professionals. The Napoli Group obviously falls into the third group.

The recent arrests will not put the Napoli Group out of business, but the arrests may in turn lead to more arrests elsewhere. Newspapers reported related arrests in Avellino, Genova, Palermo, and in Turin in Italy during early December.

Naples prosecutor Giovanni Colangelo identified 10 distinct criminal groups involved in the counterfeiting in the November 26, 2014 issue of The Telegraph newspaper. According to Colangelo, each of these groups specializes in a different stage of the counterfeiting process. These stages range from purchasing off-set printing equipment to buying the appropriate paper and ink to the physical distribution of the money. The fake currency is distributed through Albania, Bulgaria, Colombia, France, Germany, Iran, Iraq, Morocco, Russia, Spain, Tunisia, and Turkey among other places, all of which use significant amounts of physical cash in daily commerce.

The recent arrests followed a two-year police investigation. The investigation was initiated by the discovery of a counterfeiter’s printing press in Arzano near Naples. Europol disclosed through the May 2012 issue of the German publication Diplomatisches-magazin that there are two major counterfeiting centers under surveillance. One is in the Campania region of Italy. The other is in the cities of Plovdiv and Haskovo in southern Bulgaria.

There are other places of interest, a Europol spokesman describing the Italian and Bulgarian regions as only being the “tip of the iceberg.”

During 2012 Carabinieri Currency Anti-counterfeiting Unit Colonel Alessandro Gentili said, “In Italy, there’s a great, ancient and august tradition: Here, they make fake money, done well. Giugliano is still the capital. It has the best professionals.”

European Union officials have previously described the Napoli Group as being “the arch-enemy of the European Central Bank.”

The Napoli Group uses mobile workshops and highly specialized equipment. Police sources indicated the Camorra Mafia launders most of its counterfeit bank notes into Colombia, the Middle East, and into North Africa where the forgeries are used to purchase cocaine and other narcotics. The bank notes gradually find their way back into the European Union countries, making the counterfeits more difficult to detect. The Camorra Mafia is also allegedly into drug trafficking, prostitution, and the illegal dumping of toxic waste. The organization controls the number of bogus notes and coins being produced by the Napoli Group.

Italian Supreme Court Justice Raffaele Cantone conducted investigations into the Camorra organization earlier in his career. The April 30, 2012, issue of the New York Times quoted Cantone as saying, “Organized crime certainly obtains a cut from this activity, and it can intervene to regulate its use in the market because it has economic interests in the area.”

It looks like supply and demand considerations have to be taken when making counterfeit money just as much as it does with anything else in business.

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News Express.
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