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The Name’s Bond, James Bond

Posted by Larry Doyle on June 18, 2009 6:11 PM |

I truly marvel at the lengths some people will go to “make a buck.” Perhaps marvel is too generous a term in dealing with thieves, but I am fascinated by the human psychology of criminal masterminds. In this spirit, conspiracy theorists have been running wild with a story of two Japanese nationalists who tried to smuggle $134 billion in U.S. Treasury bearer bonds into Switzerland.

Who could these people be? With whom were they associated? What were they trying to accomplish? Is there some sort of national subterfuge at work? Well, this story has plenty of material for a good movie but I think that is all we will get out of it.  Bloomberg exposes this intrigue in reporting, U.S. Says Bonds Seized in Italy Are ‘Clearly Fake’:

U.S. government bonds found in the false bottom of a suitcase carried by two Japanese travelers attempting to cross into Switzerland are fake, a Treasury spokesman said.

“They’re clearly fakes,” Stephen Meyerhardt, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of the Public Debt in Washington, said yesterday. “That’s beyond the fact that the face value is far beyond what’s out there.”

Italy’s financial police last week said they asked the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to authenticate the seized bonds, with a face value of $134 billion. Colonel Rodolfo Mecarelli of the Guardia di Finanza in Como, Italy, said the securities, seized in Chiasso, Italy, were probably forgeries.

Meyerhardt said Treasury records show an estimated $105.4 million in bearer bonds have yet to be surrendered. Most matured more than five years ago, he said. The Treasury stopped issuing bearer bonds in 1982, Meyerhardt said.

Had the notes been genuine, the pair would have been the U.S. government’s fourth-biggest creditor, ahead of the U.K. with $128 billion of U.S. debt and just behind Russia, which is owed $138 billion.

According to the Italian authorities, the seized notes included 249 securities with a face value of $500 million each and 10 additional bonds with a value of more than $1 billion, as well as securities purported to be “Kennedy” bonds. Meyerhardt said no such securities exist.

Nowadays, Treasury securities are issued electronically. The U.S. started converting all of its marketable debt from paper to electronic form in the 1980s.

Put this one in the category of “never steal anything small.” Beyond that, this may provide fodder for a James Bond flick, but likely nothing more than that.


  • D Lawrence

    I have been following this story for a week now, and it’s a curious case of the dog that did not bark. If you google “Chiasso bearer bonds” you will get a list of various commentary on this story.

    The US Treasury should have confirmed within a day or two that these bonds were forgeries, instead of allowing the story to fester for almost two weeks. It almost seems as though it took so long because the different countries involved couldn’t agree on a common story. And in the US, it’s almost like there’s a blackout on this story. Japanese smuggling forged securities with huge face values into Switzerland, it seems like just the titillating story that every news channel would give thirty seconds at the bottom of the hour.

    And the story first appeared, a news web site affiliated with the Vatican. One does not normally associate the Vatican with breaking financial news stories. There are too many coincidences in this story, something just doesn’t smell right. Unfortunately, the true story may never be told.

  • owenfinn

    So, they were fake bonds, but still – who exactly were these guys and where are they now? Were they just let go? Bizarre.

  • I am sure that they are under lock and key and are undergoing thorough investigation to see who else may have been involved. It defies logic that two guys would have tried to pull off this sort of caper by themselves.

    We may never know but there has to be a lot more to this story…

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