HCMC trial delayed over 'fake money or paper' debate

By Hai Duyen   November 17, 2023 | 01:29 am PT
HCMC trial delayed over 'fake money or paper' debate
Stacks of notes that look like blackened US dollars are evidence in a counterfeit bill smuggling trial in HCMC. Photo courtesy of HCMC Customs
A HCMC court has delayed a trial on the smuggling of US$1 million worth of counterfeit bills as authorities could not discern whether they were fake money or mere paper.

The HCMC People's Court on Friday tried Nguyen Khac Viet, 47, and Tran Cam Tu, 51, for transporting counterfeit money. Viet and Tu however argued that the charge should be reconsidered, as the seized evidence were "paper", not "counterfeit bills."

An investigation revealed that in September 2021, Viet bought 12 black-colored stacks of U.S. dollars, with each stack containing 100 "$100" bills, from a man named Hung in a café in District 5 for VND30 million ($1,232).

Hung promised to give Viet chemical to wash away the blackness. Viet tried to contact Hung for the chemical, but failed. When Viet got home, he tried to wash the black away but failed, so he realized they were counterfeit money and stashed them away.

About a month later, when Tu came to Viet's house, Viet showed him the stacks of fake dollars and asked him for a place to sell them. The dollars had no serial number, so Tu realized they were fakes, and said he did not know anyone who would buy them.

In May 2022, Tu traveled to Cambodia and became acquainted with a Thai woman named Kim Hen, 60. Three months later, she came to Vietnam and invited Tu to a café in District 1. Kim then showed Tu a black $100 bill, similar to the ones Viet possessed, and asked Tu whether he knew if anyone would be willing to buy around 1,000 such bills ($100,000) for $5,000 of real money.

In September 2022, Tu told Viet that someone from Thailand wanted to buy the stacks of black money, so he told Viet to bring the 12 stacks of money to Thailand to sell them, and the profit would be split between them.

On September 15, 2022, Tu called Kim Hen and asked to meet her at Bangkok airport. He and Viet put the fake money into two suitcases and made plans to go to Thailand.

However, customs officers at the Tan Son Nhat Airport in HCMC became suspicious and discovered 10,518 black $100 bills. The officers initially thought the money was real, but later realized it was fake following analysis.

Viet told the court that the reason why he spent VND30 million to purchase the fake money was because he believed Hung’s words.

"Hung told me to wash away the chemical and the real dollars would reveal themselves... When I went home to wash them, the color did not go away, so I thought it was paper and not money," Viet said, adding that he was tricked by Hung.

Viet also complained about forensic results by the forensic science department of the HCMC police for having determined the seized evidence to be fake money. Viet claimed that they were just paper.

Tu also said that looking at the stacks of seized evidence, one can determine that they were neither real nor fake money.

Prosecutors however said there were basis to charge Viet and Tu with transporting fake money, and so recommended them imprisonment between 18-20 years.

Lawyer Ha Phi Son, who defends Tu, said forensic results determined the stacks of seized evidence literally as "counterfeit silver papers." Therefore, it needs to be determined whether the seized evidence were "fake money" or not. He recommended sending the evidence to special evaluation units under the State Bank of Vietnam to determine their identity.

The court has therefore demanded further investigation before the trial can resume.

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