Italy asks U.S. to verify seized bonds are genuine

MILAN, June 18 Thu Jun 18, 2009 4:26pm EDT

MILAN, June 18 (Reuters) - Italy has asked U.S. authorities to check the authenticity of what appear to be U.S. government bonds worth $134 billion seized near the Swiss border, a senior Italian tax police officer said on Thursday.

Early in June, Italy's Guardia di Finanza, or tax police, said they had seized the U.S. bonds from two Japanese nationals at the Chiasso rail station in the north of Italy close to the frontier with Switzerland.

"We have already established contact with American colleagues who should give an expert opinion on the bonds to establish their authenticity or falseness," said Rodolfo Mecarelli, head of the financial police in the Como province, which includes Chiasso.

Mecarelli said the tax police and the magistrate investigating the case have strong doubts about the authenticity of both types of bonds found in the baggage of the two individuals.

The bonds comprised 249 "Federal Reserve" bonds of $500 million nominal value each and 10 "Bond Kennedy" with a $1 billion nominal value, the tax police said on June 4 in a statement on the seizure of the bonds.

A reply from the relevant U.S. authorities based at the U.S. embassy in Rome is expected in the next few days or next week.

Italian investigators are also checking that the two travellers' Japanese documents are genuine.

In the last two years, $800 million of U.S. bonds have been seized in the Como area.

If the bonds are genuine, the holders could face a fine of 40 percent of their value, or $38 billion, the tax police said in their statement earlier this month.

Despite the potentially huge scale of the seizure, the amount remains small compared to the $2 trillion worth of new debt the U.S. Treasury is expected to issue in the fiscal year to Sept 20. (Reporting by Sara Rossi; writing by Nigel Tutt; Editing by Kenneth Barry)

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