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Comments made by lawyer Roman Polukhin to an article titled “Counterfeiter against her will” Fontanka. ru

18 May 2011

An innocent customer of a chain store unexpectedly fell under suspicion of a criminal offence: the checkout clerk caught her in an attempt to utter a counterfeit 500 ruble bill. The unfortunate owner of a counterfeit bill cannot rule out the possibility of being involved in an illegal scheme by the store personnel. "Fontanka" tried to make out what to do, if you were deemed as a "forger of bank notes".

Every month an average of 8 thousand counterfeit bills are identified in Russia. Over 90 % of these are 1000 ruble bills (such bills make 36% of the general money stock). According to the bank of Russia, 1000 and 5.000 ruble bills are the most forgery-prone bank notes. However, penalty provided by the criminal legislation doesn't depend on abundance of forged bank notes – any attempt to utter them shall be penalized with imprisonment for up to eight years.

“Half-dengas”

On May, 12, Galina Sh., a 55-yr-old lady from St-Petersburg was doing some routine shopping at “Polushka” chain store at Dachny avenue. The checkout clerk took a 500 ruble bill handed over to her by Galina and slipped it under the table: chances are, she kept her counterfeit detector there. Then she stated that the bill was counterfeit, and that the customer knowingly wanted to utter it. However, the checkout clerk neither called the police nor used any other way to register the event; she just scolded the bewildered lady and returned her the doubtful banknote.

Galina noticed that the bill was a “dummy” (imitation) only upon she got home. Such dummies are used in advertising and differ much in appearance from real money. The lady can't make it out: she could hardly fail to detect the fake bill either when she received it and when she paid for the goods at the store. The behavior of the checkout clerk also seemed suspicious. Even an unskilled person can easily identify a “dummy” without a counterfeit detector machine, so why did she strangely hide the bill under the table?

Galina was willing to solve these problems, so on next day she went to the shop again and appealed to the manager. According to the customer, the initial manner of conversation was kindly. Moreover, she was even allowed to watch the video record by a surveillance camera however, they only let her to watch the record in a high speed display mode and from apart. “The manager has dramatically changed her tone as I asked her to zoom in the image and to display the moment when the bill was handed over in a slower mode,” told Galina. “She stated that everything was clear and it was no use watching the record further. Then I suggested applying to the police to solve the issue, while the manager said that she has already called them.”

When non-departmental security unit arrived, the store personnel told them that the “groper for truth” was a criminal who tried to utter counterfeit bills. According to Galina, in her police statement the store representative denied that Galina visited the store the day before. “They treated me insolently and rudely, as if I was a criminal. They declared that they can arrest me for three hours. People at the police station were much more polite, they proposed that I state my own version of the event in writing. A policeman let me see a bundle of similar statements with 5.000 ruble bills attached to them,” told the victim.

Managers of “Polushka” chain store (the name polushka derives from the name of an ancient Russian coin worth half a Denga) would tell the story differently. Svetlana Petrenko, the chain regional manager, told a reporter of Fontanka that, “The said incident really happened at the outlet no. 2: a customer gave a dummy 500 ruble bill to the checkout clerk to pay for the goods. Such imitations are glued on chocolate bars and other goods included in sales promotion. The customer applied to us to sort out the situation, then she was demonstrated a video record by a surveillance camera, which clearly shows that a checkout clerk took a bill, then returned it to the customer within 10-20 seconds. The customer agreed with this fact, nevertheless, she asked the staff to call the police. The store personnel didn't commit any illegal actions.”

I am not to blame

According to “Fontanka”, such incidents happened before, and customers were always to blame for them. In such situation, experts recommend to absolutely avoid touching the bill and to call the police at once. “The store personnel should do the same,” believes Roman Polukhin, the lawyer of the law firm “S&K Vertikal”. “If the checkout clerk returned a counterfeit bill, her actions may be deemed at least as a disciplinable offense.”

Unlike the “dummy” allegedly used by Galina Sh. to pay for the goods, some bills kept in wallets of many innocent and law-abiding citizens of St.-Petersburg are really forged bank notes with highest level of counterfeiting. According to the Bank of Russia, almost at all the forged 1000 ruble bills have three and more realistically imitated organoleptic criterions of authenticity (including watermark, microfont, a distinct crackling sound when handled, etc.). Identifying a forged bank note necessitates some special purpose equipment, and even not all the sales outlets have such devices.

Nevertheless, criminal proceedings are often initiated against customers. Roman Polukhin believes that guilt in the given grade of offence is determined by the presence of intent. “One should prove that, when giving out the bill, the lady knew that it was forged, and intended to utter it. If there is no intent, then there is no criminal case,” stated the lawyer. The Supreme Court of Russia has also many times noted that in their explanatory statements. “Any person who did not make counterfeit bills sold by them shall be found guilty only should they understand that bills are forged,” stated the highest court.

However, servants of Themis tend to interpret the concept of intention in a very arbitrary way; sometimes de facto owners of counterfeit bills are bound to stay for some months in a pre-trial detention center and are even delivered guilty verdicts.

For instance, Nabihon Husenov, a citizen of the RF, will spend the next five years in a general regime penal colony: he was found guilty of uttering several forged 1000 ruble bills. According to the defendant, he was given this money as an illegal salary for working at a building lot. The court deemed the crime as an intentional one. The guilty verdict contains the following statement, “Having noticed that the witness queried the bill he uttered to him, he asked the witness to return it to him, and then made an attempt to escape. After being arrested, he tried to get rid of nine counterfeit bills which he kept about himself.”

Kartoev, another citizen of the RF, was a bit more fortunate: the public prosecutor has dropped the most part of accusations of uttering forged bills; later on the court even acknowledged that the former "counterfeiter" has the right to rehabilitation. But they decided that an innocent citizen of the RF (who stayed in a pre-trial detention center for a year and a half) is only entitled to 500 ruble amount as compensation for moral harm done to him.

Pavel Netupsky, Fontanka.ru  


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