MONEY FOR NOTHING

by Stamen Manolov

(But no chics for free)

money.jpg

Ahead of the general election scheduled for 4 April, which is expected to generate a record-low turnout owing to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, Boyko Borisov's chief prosecutor, Ivan Geshev, conducted a number of spectacular busts with an obvious potential for publicity. He cracked an alleged ring of spies for Russia, including some senior officials in the Defence Ministry and in various other state agencies. The group, according to the prosecution, sold sensitive military information to Russia – and received payments from the Russian Embassy. It is yet to be seen how the spy ring bust will evolve and whether the evidence gathered by Geshev's associates will hold water in court.

Just before the spies, Geshev's people broke into a printing facility belonging to an university in Sofia to discover the printing machines were used to make... counterfeit US dollar and euro bills. The total amount of the fake money was $4 million and 3.6 million euros respectively.

The chief prosecutor's publicity team trumpeted the action as a major achievement. Ivan Geshev and Ivaylo Ivanov, the chief secretary of the Interior Ministry, had their trophy photo taken in front of the "find."

Initially, the courts remained unconvinced. They said the "bills" were of such a poor quality that they could not possibly be used for any illegal monetary transaction. No attempt had been made to make them look at least partly "genuine" as they were printed on ordinary paper of the sort to be found at stationery shops. For what they were, the "money" could not be considered even an attempted forgery.

The people arrested during the bust were released. It transpired later that they never attempted to conceal they were printing paper money. In actual fact, their business was to supply "dollar bills" and "euro notes" to... fun gift shops to be used at parties and baptism celebrations.

The "prop" money explanation failed to convince the Bulgarian National Bank, however. Its experts inspected the money and said they did not conform to the definition of "stage prop" cash. Though they were printed on printing presses manufactured in 1987 and on paper without any watermarks the bills did resemble real money sufficiently well.

Observers surmised the fake money case had two aspects to it. The perpetrators either failed to print genuine counterfeit money or failed to print real stage prop bills. To put it in another way, the courts will now have to decide between fail and fail. 

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