We’ve known for a few months now that the European Central Mint (ECM), official producer of the Suriname Map silver bullion coin, has been closed and the owners arrested, but the story has been getting more and more bizarre. It’s now looking increasingly likely that the mint was mass producing millions of fake £1 coins and it’s two partners knee deep in a huge underworld counterfeiting ring.

The chief executive of the private Amsterdam-based mint, 49 year old Patrick Onel (pictured) is alleged to have been involved in flooding Britain with at least £30 million worth of the fake coins and been one of the factors responsible for the Treasury’s decision to change the £1 coin to the new design announced last week.

Frederick van der H. was Onels business partner and was caught byOnel UK Customs and Excise last year with a load described as ‘car parts’. However, hidden under a 2″ layer of metal washers were hundreds of thousands of fake £1 coins. With a tip-off leading to the Dutch police raiding the ECM offices last November, it was soon game over.

There have been reports of Onel living the high life for months, at the same time the bills were piling up. After the fall, more and more details of the depth of the infractions have been leaking out. Apparently, the Dutch police found machinery that could fashion the master dies used to strike £1 coins, as well as presses capable of making hundreds of coins a minute. We heard rumours that they’d even bought a sophisticated 3D scanner that could be used to scan a coin, a proof from one of the Royal Mints sets would seem a likely candidate, to aid in the manufacture of the best quality fakes. To top it off there are suspicions of money-laundering.

Alleged to have been going on since 2006, with up to £4m worth being produced each year, the ECM was described as being as sophisticated as the Royal Mint. Having legitimate minting contracts gave them the legal right to operate the machinery.

“I am not sure that the FIOD

[the Dutch anti-fraud agency] realised quite what they had come across when they raided the company’s premises, such was the sophistication of the technology …. Investigators are beginning to realise that this company had widespread connections with the UK and, by implication, must have been supplying many different criminal syndicates.”

The ECM had the contract with the Central Bank of Suriname to produce silver bullion coins issued for the country, and gold coins were in the process of being rolled out. The bank had suspicions and apparently spent quite some time trying to get out of the contract. The future of the coins are currently in doubt, but with Suriname being a silver producing country it’s likely they will return to the market.

Suriname AG 2013 1oz ObRev

The announcement of the new £1 coin has provoked interest in the story by the mainstream media and there’s an interesting take over at the Daily Mail website, as well as the Independent. Worth a read.