Cambodian police bust Thais with $7M in fake bills

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PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Three Thai men arrested in Cambodia for allegedly carrying counterfeit U.S. $100 bills with a face value of more than $7 million planned to circulate the fakes in rural areas where they would be less likely to be detected, police said Saturday.

The men were arrested Friday in a border district in the northwestern province of Battamabang in what appears to be the biggest-ever seizure of counterfeit money in Cambodia, where dollars are commonly used for financial transactions.

Police Maj. Song Sopheak said the authorities had been tipped off and followed the men's car after it crossed the border. He said the fake banknotes had been packed in three boxes which were hidden among other materials carried in their vehicle.

The officer said two of the arrested men were vendors, and the third was a 53-year-old captain who served as a Thai border guard.

Asked if the bills could have been mock money used in religious ceremonies such as the upcoming Pchum Ben festival, in which offerings are made at Buddhist temples to deceased ancestors, he said that the money was clearly a counterfeit meant to deceive. It was the same size as real bills, though the colors were slightly different as was the quality of the paper.

For people in rural areas unaccustomed to dealing with the bills, they would be difficult to distinguish from the real thing, said Song Sopheak, chief of police in Battambang's Phnom Proek district.

He added that the men confessed to having planned to circulate the money in Cambodia, after holding it for several months in Thailand. He did not know the origin of the bills.

Counterfeit dollars are an old problem in Cambodia. In October 2012, three Cambodian men were arrested for allegedly planning to smuggle millions of counterfeit dollars into Cambodia, reportedly in collusion with Thai businessmen. A year earlier, two Thai men were arrested in Banteay Meanchey, another northwestern province, after allegedly smuggling $430,000 in fake bills from Thailand.

Song Sopheak said the three suspects in the new case would be sent Saturday to provincial police headquarters in Battambang city, where they were expected to be charged in court. The men face a prison term of 5 to 10 years if convicted of trafficking counterfeit currency.

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