Three Thai men arrested in Cambodia for allegedly carrying counterfeit US$100 bills with a face value of more than US$7 million planned to circulate the fakes in rural areas where they would be less likely to be detected, police said on Saturday.
The men were arrested on Friday in a border district in the northwestern province of Battamabang in what appears to be the biggest-ever seizure of counterfeit money in Cambodia, where US dollars are commonly used for financial transactions.
Phnom Proek District Police Major Song Sopheak said the authorities had been tipped off and followed the men’s car after it crossed the border. He said the fake banknotes had been packed in three boxes which were hidden among other items in their vehicle.
The officer said two of the arrested men were vendors and the third was a 53-year-old captain who served as a Thai border guard.
Asked if the bills could have been mock money used in religious ceremonies such as the upcoming Pchum Ben festival, in which offerings are made at Buddhist temples to deceased ancestors, he said that the money was clearly a counterfeit meant to deceive. It was the same size as real bills, though the colors were slightly different, as was the quality of the paper.
For people in rural areas unaccustomed to dealing with the bills, they would be difficult to distinguish from the real thing, Song Sopheak said.
He added that the men confessed to having planned to circulate the money in Cambodia, after holding it for several months in Thailand. He did not know the origin of the bills.
Counterfeit currency is an old problem in Cambodia. In October 2012, three Cambodian men were arrested for allegedly planning to smuggle millions of counterfeit US dollars into Cambodia, reportedly in collusion with Thai businessmen. A year earlier, two Thai men were arrested in Banteay Meanchey, another northwestern province, after allegedly smuggling US$430,000 in fake bills from Thailand.
Song Sopheak said the three suspects in the new case would be sent on Saturday to provincial police headquarters in Battambang City, where they were expected to be charged in court. The men face a prison term of 5 to 10 years if convicted of trafficking counterfeit currency.
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