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Dodgy banknote deal lands Finnish businessman in court

The prosecutor said the man knew he was buying counterfeit cash from South Africa.

Syytettyjä oikeussalissa Pirkanmaan käräjäoikeudessa.
The defendants in Pirkanmaa District Court. Image: Antti Eintola / Yle

Prosecutors say a local businessman tried solving his financial problems by buying hundreds of thousands of euros worth of counterfeit notes in 2014 and now faces aggravated counterfeiting charges in Pirkanmaa District Court.

The prosecution, which has demanded the businessman serve time in prison, said that the defendant began looking for funding abroad after failing to secure a loan from financial institutions in Finland.

The man later allegedly made a deal to deposit 183,000 euros to a bank account in Johannesburg and 481,000 euros to an account in Hong Kong, in order to be able to retrieve multiple deliveries of cash to be picked up in South Africa.

The plan was to receive a much larger amount of counterfeit money, according to regional prosecutor, Olli Sulkonen.

However, the banknotes he bought were covered with a black substance and needed cleaning before they could even be attempted to be used.

The prosecution said the man visited the African country on three occasions at the end of 2014 and beginning of 2015, in order to pick up parcels of counterfeit US dollar and euro banknotes.

Fake banknotes

The fake cash was not of high quality, according to Sulkonen.

"It wasn't exactly [Monopoly] money, but they were not of a high standard," Sulkonen said.

Purchase of the paste-covered banknotes, according to the prosecution, included a detergent that the seller told the defendant would wash them off.

The businessman allegedly brought some of the banknotes back to Finland, but was unable to clean them, leaving them unusable.

The prosecutor said the businessman explicitly knew that he was buying counterfeit notes, but statements made by a man who accompanied the defendant to South Africa as a "security guard," included in the police investigation report, present an alternative possible story.

The security guard said that during his and the businessman's first visit to South Africa, it became clear to him that the "financing" deal was about buying so-called "black dollars."

The guard said the businessman had been fed a story that the UN had blackened the currency to prevent theft, but that the colouring could be removed with the correct substance.

The prosecutor said the currency parcel seized by police was still covered in the black substance and smelled strongly of chlorine. The banknotes' purchase price included a detergent which the sellers claimed would clear up the bills.

Conflicting testimony

In court, the prosecution asked the security guard about a text message exchange with the businessman.

Prosecutor: "You sent a message 'the machine is in Denmark.' What did that mean?"

Guard: "[The businessman's name] had gotten a machine that washes money somehow. That was supposed to be the thing in Denmark."

Prosecutor: "[The businessman] said the message was about a car."

Guard: "That is not the case. It was [about] a money washer."

The businessman has denied committing any crime, and claimed that he was actually the victim in this case. The defendant testified that he was not seeking to purchase fake banknotes, but rather was seeking financing for a real estate investment in Lahti.

Story continues after photo.

tukku seteleitä foliossa
A parcel of the blackened, counterfeit bills seized by Finnish authorities. Image: Poliisi

Scammed in South Africa

He told the court he previously unsuccessfully attempted to get funding from Estonia and Germany.

Then, the defendant said he was contacted by individuals from South Africa, who had found his contact information on his website. He testified that the alleged scammers said they were linked to the South African Reserve Bank, the country's central bank. On his first trip to Johannesburg, the defendant said a financing deal was reached and that he met someone who called himself the country's minister of the economy.

On his second trip to South Africa, the businessman said he was becoming suspicious about the arrangement and on his third, he said he realised he was being cheated, leaving the country a day ahead of schedule.

Similar so-called "black money" scams have been common around the world for decades.

2 others charged with blackmail

Meanwhile, in the same trial, two other men are facing aggravated blackmail charges, accused of blackmailing the businessman.

The pair both denied the charges, saying they merely wanted the businessman to pay off debts he owed, but that there was no intimidation involved. One of the men was involved with two of the businessman's trips to Johannesburg.

The identities of the alleged scammers in South Africa were not mentioned in the case's preliminary investigation report.

A fourth man in the case was charged with aggravated money laundering, accused of receiving 67,000 euros in illegally-sourced funds from the businessman. However, the man denied the charge, saying that the money did not come from illegal activity, or at least he was unaware of it if that was the case.

A ruling on the case is expected in early November.

Daily newspaper Aamulehti first reported about the case.

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