False passports, counterfeit Euros, 10 years' imprisonment

Australian 100 dollar note

Law enforcement commenced an investigation into a person exchanging counterfeit currency after receiving information from banks across Western Australia, South Australia and Victoria. After travelling to each state, the offender attended multiple branches of several banks and opened up bank accounts using aliases and false passports. The offender then exchanged counterfeit Euro for Australian dollars.

The offender was arrested after exchanging a total of EUR235,000 or AUD309,284 equivalent over a four month period and sentenced to 10 and a half years imprisonment.

The following indicators may help to identify similar criminal activity:

  • A customer using a foreign passport which appears to be false, to open an account, e.g. the machine readable zone code is inconsistent with passport details; the passport does not contain the account holder's signature or photograph; or, the issuing authority stamp is unclear.
  • A customer (foreign national) exchanging foreign currency for Australian dollars for amounts below AUD10,000 multiple times at different branches of the same bank over a short time period, e.g. within a few days.
  • A customer (foreign national) exchanging foreign currency for Australian dollars for amounts below AUD10,000 which are deposited into an account followed by an equivalent withdrawal.

Investigation outline

An investigation was commenced after law enforcement received information from a number of banks in Western Australia, South Australia, and Victoria concerning a customer who was using false passports to open bank accounts. The investigation revealed the offender, a foreign national who arrived in Australia on a German passport, had used false foreign passports – Spanish, French and Portuguese – to establish accounts using several aliases with several banks domestically.

The offender would then exchange counterfeit Euro currency, usually in large denominations of EUR500, EUR200 and EUR100 notes, for Australian currency. This activity was conducted up to 11 times a day, mostly at multiple branches of major banks within each state. Individually, the amounts exchanged were predominately below AUD10,000, usually between AUD5,000 to AUD7,000. In total EUR235,000 or the equivalent of AUD309,284 was exchanged over approximately four months. During this period, only one bank refused to open an account for the offender based on his signature not matching that on the passport used as identification. After opening up a bank account in New South Wales and depositing EUR10,000, the offender was arrested attempting to withdraw funds at a different branch when staff became suspicious of his behaviour and contacted law enforcement.  

Industry contribution

Suspicious matter reports (SMRs) submitted by banks highlighted the following in relation to the offender's transaction activity:

  • The use of counterfeit EUR notes exchanged for AUD. One particular reporting entity observed the quality of counterfeit EUR notes to be very high and contained all the security features as authentic notes.
  • The use of false foreign passports where the machine readable zone code did not match details on the passport; the passport did not contain the holder's signature; and, the issuing authority stamp was unclear. 
  • Exchanging a total of EUR20,000 into Australian dollars over two days. The amounts exchanged were for EUR5,000 each followed by deposits at four different branches. Equivalent amounts were subsequently withdrawn following the deposits.
  • Providing a residential address when opening an account that the offender did not actually reside at. This was discovered by the bank when a bank card and pin mailed to the offender's alleged address was returned undelivered.

AUSTRAC contribution

AUSTRAC data supported law enforcement in identifying and establishing a link between the offender and an accomplice through a common phone number. The accomplice was depositing and sending large amounts of AUD overseas suspected of being the proceeds of crime.

Outcome

The offender was charged with:

  • 53 counts of uttering counterfeit money, knowing it to be counterfeit money, contrary to Section 7 of the Crimes (Currency) Act 1981 (Cth);
  • 1 count of possessing counterfeit money, knowing it to be counterfeit money, contrary to Section 9 of the Crimes (Currency) Act 1981 (Cth);
  • 21 counts of producing false or misleading documents to a reporting entity, contrary to Subsection 137 (1) of the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act 2006 (Cth); and
  • 62 counts of receiving a designated service using a false customer name, contrary to Subsection 140 (1) of the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act 2006 (Cth).

The offender was sentenced to 10 and a half years imprisonment with a seven year non-parole period.

Summary

Offence

Fraud

Customer

Individual

Industry

Authorised deposit-taking institution (ADI)

Channel

Physical

Report type

SMR

Jurisdiction

Domestic

Designated Service

Currency exchange

Last modified: 11/10/2016 12:28