Is it illegal to forge currency of unrecognized states?

Let’s say I wanted to take a holiday in sunny Transnistria, the Russian-backed breakaway region of Moldova whose sovereignty is not recognized by any UN member state. I will naturally want to stay in the very best hotels, eat in the very best restaurants, and shop for loads of expensive jewelry and luxury items. Of course, even though Transnistria is quite cheap by western standards, I could never afford to do this on my salary. However, I do happen to own a very sophisticated banknote printing press. Would it be illegal for me to print up a few billion in forged Transnistrian rubles to use for my holiday?

Of course, if I were caught holding or spending the forged rubles in Transnistria itself, I’m sure the local Transnistrian authorities would consider me a criminal. But would the country in which I printed the rubles consider the printing to be a crime? That is, are the various forgery laws of the world typically worded in such a way that they apply only to currencies of recognized states? Or do they tend to be worded more broadly, prohibiting the counterfeiting of any documents used as a customary means of exchange anywhere in the world?

I’m sure I haven’t been the only person to have thought of this. Have there been any cases of this actually happening? My scenario was a bit contrived in that almost nobody wants to visit Transnistria. But there are lots of other partially recognized countries with very developed tourist and business infrastructures where there would be a great incentive to forge currency with impunity. For example, Israel, the People’s Republic of China, and the Republic of China remain unrecognized by dozens of other countries.

If you’re US-based, the Secret Service says counterfeiting foreign bills is illegal, but I couldn’t make any sense of the actual text of 18 USC 474 to know if that’s true.

Also see:

Australian Federal has this definition.


"(3) For the purposes of this Act, a coin or paper money shall be taken to be a genuine coin or genuine paper money if it is, or has been, a current coin or current paper money in any country (whether or not the country concerned is still in existence). "

Then the regular crime of possession of counterfeit money is defined… Includes “without good excuse”… :slight_smile: “its illegal, except when its legal.”
Not sure what would happen if you started counterfeiting future countries :slight_smile:

Hm… I’m not sure if that answers the question for Australia. What counts as a “country”? Since the government of Australia doesn’t recognize Transnistria, does that mean it’s not a country, and therefore that it’s legal to counterfeit its coins and banknotes?

A related question: During the American civil war, a lot of counterfeit Confederate banknotes were produced, presumably mostly in the Union. Was anyone in the North ever prosecuted for this?

I think they could still nail you for counterfeiting Transnistrian rubles.

18 U.S.C. 482 (“Foreign bank notes”):

18 U.S.C. 11 (“Foreign government defined”):

Well, now, that is interesting. I note, though, that the term “foreign government” doesn’t actually appear in 18 U.S.C. 482; the closest wording there is “foreign country”. If we take the view that the terms are synonymous, then it seems clear that it’s illegal to forge Transnistrian rubles in the US. But I wonder how a court would interpret it.

Actually 482 may be the wrong section.

18. U.S.C. 478 (“Foreign obligations or securities”)

(482 would presumably apply if Transnistria has some situation akin to Scottish banknotes.)

I am not a law-talkin’-guy, but it seems to me that “with intent to defraud” is the key phrase here. Whether or not the US recognizes West Bhkrazistan as a legitimate nation, the crime is committed when you reproduce its banknotes with the intent of passing them as lawful instruments.

Better idea: make up a country and hope the people at the bureau de change aren’t paying attention.

Apparently this sort of thing works quite often with fantasy passports. Many people have reported freely crossing national borders using only passport-like documents from nonexistent countries such as “British Honduras” or “Spanish Guinea”. According to one school of thought, this isn’t a crime, since no real country’s official documents are being passed off. However, I’m not aware of any prosecutions for attempted use of such a passport.

Does this actually work in the U.S. after 9/11?

Even if not counterfeiting, isn’t there fraud in what the OP is doing?

Possibly, but with a much lesser likelihood of success, and a much greater likelihood of unpleasant consequences.

I can personally attest to the fact that border guards, at least outside the US, can be astonishingly ignorant of what constitutes a proper travel document. I’ve seen EU border guards insist on stamping visas into EU citizens’ passports because they didn’t believe that the holder’s country was also in the EU. I’ve seen Russian border guards refuse to let their own citizens board flights to Germany because they didn’t understand the German residence permit in their passport. On the other hand I’ve had border guards wave me through immigration without checking my passport, or without issuing a visa or entry stamp that was technically required. By all this I just mean to demonstrate that it wouldn’t surprise me if the occasional border guard, American or otherwise, might accept one of these fantasy passports out of ignorance.

Depends what you do with your fake notes. You have to actually deceive someone to their detriment or your benefit.

Yep. And the actual deception doesn’t take place at the time of printing, so I don’t think a prosecution for fraud would stick. Conspiracy to defraud, maybe, since I’m printing the notes with intent to fraudulently pass them off later.

Though a conspiracy charge will require you to be printing the notes in co-operation with at least one other person who shares your fraudulent intent.

But in fact I think the counterfeiting charge would stick, given the definition of “foreign government”.

Even without the definition, I suspect a countfeiting charge would have a good chance of sticking. “Recognition” of a foreign country by the US government is relevant to the question of whether, and on what terms, the US government will enter into diplomatic relations with the crowd that runs the place. It’s not relevant to the question of whether a foreign country exists or not; that’s a question of fact, not executive fiat.

That raises another question:

Suppose I (an American) print up a load of 100 Euro notes for my own amusement, and dump them in the trash when I tire of them. Someone finds them and, thinking them genuine, goes on to spend or exchange them. Has a crime been committed?

IANAL, but I’d say no. Neither party satisfies the mens rea (guilty mind) criterion for a crime at least under common law. But that is based on the assumed interpretation being used here that counterfeiting includes an intent to defraud. It might be strictly illegal to make imitation money even if you don’t intend to use it.

It’s not an “assumed intepretation”. 18 USC 478, quote in post #7 above, explicitly makes “intent to defraud” an element of the counterfeiting offence.

I don’t see why “with intent to defraud” is any more key to the definition than “within the United States”, “falsely makes, alters, forges, or counterfeits”, “any bond, certificate, obligation, or other security”, “of any foreign government”, etc. They’re all equally necessary conditions which must be met in order for the crime to have occurred. A judge isn’t going to look at the statute and say, “Well, you’ve met the ‘intent’ condition, so whether or not the ‘foreign government’ one applies doesn’t matter so much.” After all, the United States doesn’t recognize private corporations as foreign governments either, but I doubt they’d use this statute (or at least not this particular part of it) to prosecute a forger of corporate bonds.