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V13 2010 INDEX       E-SYLUM ARCHIVE

The E-Sylum: Volume 13, Number 1, January 3, 2010, Article 27

GOT CHANGE FOR A MILLION SILVER DOLLARS?

Werner Talso writes:

I thought your readers might be interested in this news story in the German magazine "Der Speigel". I guess all Europeans do not really understand our monetary system.

Million Dollar Silver Certificate

Two Germans were caught in an Austria mountain town with 500 million dollars in counterfeit banknotes. It's one of the biggest hauls of counterfeit dollars in Europe. But the culprits say they thought the 1 million dollar bills were real. Early next year an Austrian court must decide their fate.

At the end of January, Hölzen will face trial in a district court in Feldkirch, in Austria's Vorarlberg region. Austrian prosecutors have filed charges against him and his accomplice, Dietmar B., 52, for attempted fraud and possession of counterfeit banknotes.

Almost a year ago, Hölzen and B. were arrested in a bank in Austria's Kleinwalsertal ski valley. The duo stands accused of having attempted to exchange $202 million in counterfeit bills. The police also found $291 million more in counterfeit bills in a black Samsonite suitcase the men were carrying.

Technically speaking, it was one of the biggest successes that European police organizations have ever had in the fight against counterfeit US banknotes. But not even the Austrian police are willing to call it a coup. And that's because the defendants lacked both a plan and any professionalism.

Instead, the trial in Feldkirch is more likely to offer a cautionary tale about how, in greedy times, even ordinary people think there is a fast track to wealth. And about how they believed that they could get rich quick through a combination of cunning and a few printed piece of paper; And how they ruined their lives in the process.

Two men walked into his office one afternoon. One of them, Hendrik van den B., a tall, gaunt older man, was wearing a dark, expensive-looking suit and introduced himself as a Dutch businessman. He looks as though he has money, Hölzen said to himself.

The other man, short and bald, was Dietmar B., from Essen in western Germany who looked much less imposing. According to Hölzen, what B. did not tell him was that he was a machinist, who had been unemployed for a long time and that he had already served prison time for attempted fraud and for his association with a criminal gang that was involved in grand larceny.

The men told Hölzen that he had been recommended to them by a former client and that they wanted him to prepare a purchase agreement for some historic stocks, some of which were American silver certificates. They told him that these silver certificates, which closely resembled ordinary dollar bills, were never used as a conventional form of payment but were traded between banks in the past. And they remained extremely valuable.

An employee with Julius Bär, a Swiss private bank, promptly replied that the pieces of paper were worthless. But Hölzen did not want to hear this. This deal of a lifetime couldn't possibly be over before it had even begun, he thought. "This is my big chance," he kept telling himself.

That is Hölzen's side of the story anyway. "I was naïve," he admits -- and that is all he will admit too. He continues to insist that he was not the main instigator of the crime with which he is now being charged.

The eventual case, when it comes to court, will revolve around whether the two Germans believed that the banknotes were real or whether they were deliberately trying to unload counterfeit bills. The investigators claim that by the time they reached the bank in Riezlern, Hölzen and B. "had come to terms with the possibility that the banknotes could be counterfeit."

To read the complete article, see: Got Change For A Million Silver Dollars? (www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,669480,00.html)

Wayne Homren, Editor

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