The world's largest forger of plastic banknotes has been detained in Romania, officials say.
The man was allegedly leading a gang that began its activity in 2014 and produced 17,000 fake 100 RON (€22) banknotes, according to Romania's organised-crime unit, in a fraud worth around €350,000.
"The investigations have confirmed that, in a relatively short period of time, the leader of the group managed to produce the best counterfeits in Romanian history and became the largest counterfeiter of plastic banknotes in the world," said the Directorate for Investigating Organized Crime and Terrorism (DIICOT).
Investigators managed to identify a fingerprint on one of the fake banknotes which helped them track down the suspects.
Three people, including the group leader, have been detained for questioning.
The fake banknotes were almost impossible to detect as they are made from synthetic polymer, which mimicks the security features recognised by consumers.
According to prosecutors the gang was extremely careful when making and distributing the counterfeit money: “Witnesses were not able to give any information about the notes because no one realised they had been handed a fake."
"Forgers sought to pass the money to people deemed gullible,” officials said, adding they often turned their phones off.
Romania has had one of the lowest counterfeiting rates in Europe, according to DIICOT, less than 1% of all Romania cash in circulation is fake.
The high-security Romanian plastic banknotes were previously thought almost impossible to reproduce and were a source of pride for the Romanian National Bank.
The plastic notes have also proved useful during the coronavirus pandemic as they can be easily washed and disinfected.
They are also more durable, making them arguably more environmentally friendly than traditional paper notes.
Romania is among 30 countries that use polymer-based banknotes. Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Vietnam and more recently Mexico employ them too.
The Bank of England also made the switch to polymer notes in 2016.
The plastic notes are said to incorporate many security features not available in paper equivalents, which together with the reduced production costs, prompted central banks across the world to switch to plastic cash.