Scientist jailed for six years for trillion-dollar swindle

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The Independent Online

A former forensic scientist was jailed yesterday for six years for his part in a counterfeiting scam.

Graham Halksworth, 69,authenticated $2.5 trillion (£1.5 trillion) of bogus United States Treasury bonds. He was caught out by a spelling mistake.

The false documents, which had a face value greater than the world's entire gold stocks, were used by several international criminals to obtain large sums of money.

But the scam unravelled after a Korean and a Canadian tried to cash $25mof the fake bills at a Toronto bank in February 2001. An officer with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police saw that some of the high-denomination bonds said "dollar" instead of "dollars".

Experts discovered that the bills had been produced on an ink-jet printer, which had not been invented in 1934, the year they were supposedly made. Another clue was the inclusion of postcodes - which the US did not introduce until 1963.

Halksworth, of Mossley, Greater Manchester, who helped to pioneer the science of fingerprinting, was arrested a few months later.

Michael Slamaj, 53, a former Yugoslav soldier who runs a Canadian engineering company, was detained the following year. They were convicted in September at Snaresbrook Crown Court, London, of conspiracy to defraud.

Slamaj, who was also found guilty of possessing some of the fake bonds, was jailed for six years. He had said that the bonds were issued by the US in exchange for gold given by Chiang Kai-shek's nationalist government in the 1940s.

A plane carrying them supposedly crashed on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines in 1948, and Slamaj said that he was given the bonds by a Filipino tribesman.

Judge William Birtles said that it was clear that the men were motivated by greed and were central to a conspiracy intended to defraud financial institutions out of enormous sums. He rejected submissions from the defence for non- custodial sentences and said the length of the conspiracy, the men's efforts to make it work and the potential losses that would have been incurred meant sentences of six years were unavoidable.

He told Halksworth: "The jury's verdict can only mean you were an essential part of the conspiracy ... there is nothing that can sensibly be said in your favour in respect of your conviction. Even after your initial arrest, there was evidence that you authenticated a further document.

"It is submitted you were an incompetent conspirator and there was a very thin chance of the conspiracy succeeding. But the lack of your sophistication does not diminish the seriousness of the aim of the conspiracy or your part in it."

Judge Birtles told Slamaj: "You again were at the very centre of this conspiracy with Halksworth."

Outside the court, Detective Inspector Roger Cook of the City of London Police's economic crime department said that the sentences were "pleasing". He said that the case and the investigation had been "unique" and had involved "more zeros than he had ever seen before".

He added: "They were playing for high stakes and that, certainly, was why Halksworth sacrificed his reputation."