From the original article:Two Japanese nationals were detained by Italian financial police last week after trying to enter Switzerland with $134 billion worth of undeclared U.S. bonds, mostly Treasury bonds, an Italian daily said Wednesday. The Japanese consulate general in Milan confirmed that the detention had taken place and said it was trying to confirm with Italian authorities whether the two were indeed Japanese nationals and their identities.
According to the report in il Giornale, two unidentified Japanese in their 50s concealed the bonds, including 249 U.S. Treasury bonds each worth $500 million, in a suitcase with a false bottom that was searched by the Italian authorities June 3 when they were in Chiasso, at the border with Switzerland, about 50 kilometers north of Milan. The daily did not say on what charges they have been detained, but the two may have been detained on suspicion of attempting to take a large amount of securities out of Italy without declaring it because the paper said they had not declared the bonds.
This is very significant news, because, as Michael Barnett writes in an email, one of the following must be true:
- The Japanese are trying to secretly divest themselves of about 25% of their US debt. (They own about $600B in US debt.)
- The Japanese are acting as Chinese or North Korean agents in trying to help them divest themselves of US debt in secret.
- There is an enormous sum of counterfeit US debt out there and these guys are trying to sell some of it.
None of these cases bodes well for the US debt market.
UPDATE: Karl Denninger writes:
Ok, this was rumored several days ago, but now I can find actual news reports - at least, outside the US:Milan (AsiaNews) – Italy’s financial police (Guardia italiana di Finanza) has seized US bonds worth US 134.5 billion from two Japanese nationals at Chiasso (40 km from Milan) on the border between Italy and Switzerland. They include 249 US Federal Reserve bonds worth US$ 500 million each, plus ten Kennedy bonds and other US government securities worth a billion dollar each.
Those sound like Bearer Bonds - at least the Kennedy ones do.
We no longer issue those (nor does pretty much anyone else) for obvious reasons - they're essentially money and can be had in VERY large size, making them great vehicles for various illegal enterprises.
But folks: This is $134.5 billion dollars worth.
If they're real, what government (the only entity that would have such a cache) is trying to unload them?
If they're fake, this is arguably the biggest counterfeiting operation ever, by a factor of many times. I've seen news about various counterfeiting operations over the years that have made me chuckle, but this one, if that's what it is, is absolutely jaw-dropping.
The cute part of this is that if the certificates are real Italy just got a hell of a bonanza - their money laundering laws provide for a statutory 40% penalty for failure to declare instruments and cash in excess of $10,000 Euros, which means they'd garner a close-to-$40 billion dollar windfall.
That ought to help their budget problems!
Notice, by the way, that the US Media has totally ignored this story - even though the securities in question are allegedly US instruments.
Gee, I wonder why? Might the authorities know they're real and be just a wee bit nervous that disclosure of a sovereign attempting to covertly dump nearly $140 billion in debt could cause a wee bit of panic, given that we're running nearly $200 billion a month in deficits?
Inquiring minds want to know what's really going on here.