One of the property searches in progress. / CNP

Spanish police arrest 12 people suspected of forging more than eight million 500-euro bank notes

Members of the gang met in prison where they were all serving sentences for other crimes and when they came out they set up the biggest fake note printing operation in Europe

IRENE QUIRANTE Malaga

Police have arrested 12 people, including several in Malaga, in an operation to break up a gang who were forging money and are accused of having produced more than eight million fake 500-euro notes.

The gang members met while they were all serving sentences for different crimes in Picassent prison, Valencia. The man who is believed to be the leader is a printer by profession and has expert knowledge of graphic arts.

The police began investigating in mid-2021 when several fake 500-euro banknotes were detected all over Spain. The quality of the forgery was so high that the difference between those and the real ones was barely perceptible.

It was officers from the Bank of Spain’s Investigations Department who set about determining whether any known criminals were involved, and that is how the main suspect was identified. He was arrested for similar crimes over a decade ago, and the investigation ascertained that the fake banknotes had features in common with the ones he had made in 2009.

In Barcelona there was another important finding, when the Mossos d'Esquadra discovered a bag containing over four million euros in fake 500-euro notes and they turned out to be identical to those already in the hands of the police.

Eight million forgeries in three months

Specialists from the Scientific Police managed to identify the printer and five other people suspected of being involved. They had set up their headquarters in a warehouse in Valencia and each gang member was assigned a specific task. It only took them three months to produce more than eight million forged banknotes and release them into circulation.

Their activity came to a halt in the pandemic because they were unable to obtain the materials they needed from China, and at that time they moved their base to an industrial unit in Alicante, where the printer who was the group's leader lived.

The police believe they were trying to finance a move to France, but a joint operation by the National Police, Mossos d’Esquadra and Europol ensured that the gang members, who were in Malaga, Valencia, Alicante and Barcelona, were arrested before they were able to carry out their plans.

All the suspects have been charged with forgery and membership of a criminal gang, and those believed to have been at the top of the hierarchy have been remanded in prison as a preventive measure.