From time to time, we all wish we could just print our own money instead of having to haul ourselves to work to earn an honest wage.
But it takes a special kind of dishonourable person, a true pest among humans, to turn to the crime of counterfeiting money.
It seems like one of those extra lazy, unimaginative things to do. In a country flooded with fake everything -- fake vegetables, fake fish (at least concerning the freshness of it), fake eggs, fake cosmetics, fake buildings, fake degrees, and fake accomplishments, the roaring trade of fake money is one of those bottom of the barrel scummy practices that really suck the creativity out of doing even a proper con job.
Money counterfeiting is, then, a trade where crooked Bangladeshis will feel right at home.
Look, there’s something doubly fake about fake cash. First of all, cash lacks any kind of intrinsic value in the first place. You can’t eat it (as much as it may make you salivate), and you can’t drive it around town -- cash means something only so far as society, your government, and your central bank have agreed that it is legal tender, thereby giving you rights over other things.
Even then, the value of your money is not something stable and unchanging. Hyperinflation can make the worth of your banknote go kaput.
Just ask the Russian who reportedly took a sack full of money to the bank, which he left in his parked car, and returned to find his sack gone while worthless rubles were flying all around.
Cash is just paper, which makes the social and legal contract that it rests on all the more sacred.
Fake money, real problem
Take out a large banknote from your pocket, and rub it with wet or sweaty fingers. If the colours are coming off, you are dealing with a fake.
The fake notes being made today are pretty high quality -- they are printed on imported paper, and it is nearly impossible to tell the difference just by looking, which is why you need the dampness test. Both the watermark and the long thread found in genuine banknotes are present.
Indeed, these syndicates are going to great lengths to make fake money instead of rightfully earning it. So, it was quite delightful to hear that RAB busted a major counterfeiting gang on Thursday and made five arrests. They were caught with over Tk1 crore of counterfeit.
There will be a lot of threads to start unraveling in the coming days, and anti-counterfeit operatives will have their hands full. Abdur Rashid, arrested in Thursday’s raid, might prove a very useful starting point though
With Eid coming up, everyone is expected to be spending. From activities at cattle markets to shops and plazas to tipping and Eid bonuses, a staggering amount of money changes hands in the holiday seasons -- the perfect time for this funny money to circulate widely without being noticed.
The syndicates, of course, have long tentacles, enabling them to get not just equipment and other supplies from abroad, but also the expertise. Their consultants include bank officials, and shady Pakistani, Indian, Thai, Filipino, and African professionals to give “tech support.” Counterfeiting activities, law enforcement says, might also be backed up by foreign intelligence agencies.
There will be a lot of threads to start unraveling in the coming days, and anti-counterfeit operatives will have their hands full. Abdur Rashid, arrested in Thursday’s raid, might prove a very useful starting point though.
Hired by Agrani Bank as a clerk in 1996, this dubious fellow later became a junior officer. After being sacked and imprisoned for two years for appropriating money, he had a change of heart about his career. Inspired by his meeting with veteran counterfeiter Nuruzzaman, Rashid set up a printing press in Kataban where he forged documents for people.
In 2000, he got into the money counterfeiting business. Now that he has been arrested again, let’s hope his luck runs out.
But even with a handful of dodgy counterfeiters behind bars, the overall problem remains daunting. Obviously, both short term and long term measures will need to be taken.
In the short term, the government can equip banks with quick ways of detecting fakes, and amp up police and intelligence efforts during the holiday season. Educate the people -- a PSA on how to detect forgery and what to do or where to go when you find one could go a long way in helping the hapless public.
Long term steps include getting foreign expertise to update our banknotes. Put more security features in our notes so that they are harder to forge. With an organised and thorough investigation, cut off the local and international support for our counterfeiters, identify and root out the main players, and bring down this operation for good.
The life of any ordinary citizen, yours or mine, could be gravely inconvenienced by the fake notes that are flowing through our economy right now. An individual has every reason to be personally offended by the circulation of fake money.
The crime of counterfeiting is an affront to one of the most basic legal agreements we have, one that makes the economy work. Violators need to be brought to book and shown no mercy.
Abak Hussain is Op-Ed Editor, Dhaka Tribune.