The sleepy village of Monte da Estrada in the Alentejo was interrupted from its slumber on September 2, when the Coimbra Polícia Judiciária (PJ) raided a farm and confiscated 7.5 million US dollars in counterfeit hundred dollar bills.
It was the largest ever recorded single seizure of false notes in the world to date. A total of seven men were arrested in a massive police operation, which extended throughout the whole of the Alentejo, from Beira Litoral to Baixo Alentejo.
Six out of the seven men were remanded in custody following a preliminary court hearing, one was released, but was ordered to periodically report back to the police station. The men, aged between 32 and 58, were arrested in different locations in the Alentejo over three days. It was later discovered that some of the detainees had prior convictions for money fraud.
According to the PJ, the machinery used to produce the false hundred dollar bills was of excellent quality and the notes were very difficult to differentiate from authentic money. The PJ managed to foil the operation before the money made it into circulation, but the director of the Coimbra PJ, Pedro Carmo, admitted that it was possible that some counterfeit money could have slipped through the net.
Neighbours have said that they heard noise coming from the farm, mostly at night, and when they asked the occupants what they were doing, they told the neighbours that they were making picture frames. During the raid, machinery, documents and software were seized, which the police believe were to be used in an operation for falsifying documents. Authentic national identity cards and passports were also recovered from the scene. The PJ admitted that the counterfeit operation was organised and well equipped in terms of hardware and manpower.
The investigation’s outcome has been praised by the US government, but it may not be over, as more arrests could take place. To document the evidence, all the money had to be counted, which proved such a challenge that a money counting machine was brought in to speed up the task. Members of the Coimbra PJ are reluctant to divulge any more information at this stage, to safeguard the strength of the case.