NAPLES Italy (Reuters) - Italian finance police arrested a man who concealed a haul of forged 50-euro banknotes equivalent to 17 million euros ($21.8 million) in a van outside a shopping center near the southern city of Naples, a police statement said.
The massive seizure tops the number of counterfeit banknotes withdrawn from circulation by the European Central Bank during the first half of the year.
The banknotes “were a very good copy of the original and absolutely capable of deceiving most consumers because they successfully imitated the texture, the security band and the holograms,” the statement said.
Police spotted the man in a corner of a shopping center parking lot, “frenetically” moving packages into his van from another vehicle. Suspicious of his movements, they searched the van and found the fake banknotes hidden underneath stationery in 15 boxes, the statement said.
The man, who is accused of counterfeiting currency with intent to distribute, had no criminal record, police said. They did not release his name. Investigators are now trying to find out where the notes were made.
The Naples area is a hotbed for counterfeiting in Italy. The top finance police counterfeiting investigator in Naples, Gerardo Marinelli, said this week half of all fake bills in the euro zone come from the Naples area, according to estimates based on previously sequestered banknotes.
The seizure of 340,000 50-euro notes is more than the 331,000 counterfeit notes of all denominations withdrawn by the ECB in the 18-country bloc during the first six months of 2014, but it is a small fraction of the 16 billion notes the central bank said were in circulation.
The ECB introduced a new 10-euro banknote on Tuesday as a way to increase protection against counterfeiting.
Reporting by Amalia De Simone in Naples; writing by Steve Scherer in Rome; Editing by Dominic Evans