Police in Portugal have broken up what has been described as Europe’s second-largest dark web counterfeit currency network in an operation backed by Europol.
Officers from the country’s Polícia Judiciária detained five suspects who stand accused of producing bogus banknotes and being members of an organised crime group.
The suspects were held after the discovery of counterfeit currency worth over €1.3 million ($1.43 million) in countries including France, Germany, Spain and Portugal.
As part of the operation that led to the suspect’s arrest, investigators carried out raids on eight residential and business addresses, during which they confiscated 1,833 counterfeit banknotes with a total face value of €69,930.
Several other items were also seized, including equipment and materials used to produce counterfeit currency such as computers, printers, security paper with security thread incorporation, holograms and self-adhesive holographic bands, ultraviolet inks and ink cartridges.
In a statement, Europol said: “Europol supported this operation since the beginning with counterfeit and dark web experts. Several meetings were held at Europol, and intelligence notification packages were issued as well.
“Apart from the financial support, the European law enforcement agency provided the Portuguese authorities with analytical and operational support during the action day.
“One Europol’s analyst was deployed for on-the-spot support with a Mobile Office during the action day.”
News of the arrests comes just days after Interpol held a conference at its headquarters in the French city of Lyon that focussed on counterfeit currency, and specifically the role the dark web plays in facilitating the illicit trade in bogus banknotes.
Delegates also examined new methods being used to tackle fake banknotes, the latest security features and currency authentication tools, the challenges of investigating bogus banknotes produced using inkjet printers, and the structure of fake banknote monitoring systems.
According to Europol, counterfeit currency remains a major law enforcement issue in developed economies, despite the fact that the rise of digital payments has reduced the use of physical cash.
Europe’s law enforcement agency has forecast that organised crime gangs will continue to produce fake banknotes regardless of this, not least because the tools and materials required to manufacture counterfeit currency are becoming easier to obtain on dark web marketplaces.
Back in April, Spanish police announced they had dismantled an organised crime network behind the “most active” counterfeit euro note printing operation that had ever been discovered in the country.