Sometimes the logistics of a crime seems so unlikely that the fact that it happened make the story even more fascinating. One such story is unfolding in Germany as six Lufthansa employees, four of them flight attendants, have been arrested after smuggling more than 63,000 pounds of discarded, out of circulation, €1 and €2 coins from China back to Germany over the past four years.
When the Deutsche Bundesbank, Germany’s Central Bank, takes Euro coins out of circulation are broken in two pieces and separated into ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ coin parts, the separated parts are then sent a smelter in China who melts the pieces down, with the metals separated and they are then used as scrap metal. The ‘gold’ portions of the Euro coins are 75% copper, 20% zinc, 5% nickel and the ‘silver’ portion of the Euro coins are 75% copper and 25% nickel. The €1 coin weighs 0.26 ounces and the €2 coin weighs 0.29 ounces.
The scheme of having the discarded Euro coins put back into circulation works like this, once the scrap smelter in China receives the separated pieces of Euro coins criminal organizations were accessing both parts of the coin. With both parts in possession the coins were reassembled and then packaged and flown back to Germany with four Lufthansa flight attendants between 2007 and 2011 because flight attendants have no weight restrictions on their baggage. Once in Germany the flight attendants would cash the coins back in with Bundesbank, as Bundesbank is the only bank in Europe that will exchange damaged coins at no charge.
Bundesbank weighs in bags of up to €1,000 in coins rather that counting the coins, and coins are rarely if ever inspected.
German authorities believe that over a four year period these four Lufthansa flight attendants smuggled more than 63,000 pounds of Euro coins back into Germany from China, worth an estimated €20,000,000 (US$28.4-million)
How did these flight attendants get caught? A Germany Customs official noticed one of the flight attendants struggling with the weight of her baggage and then investigated the contents of her bag. Upon inspecting her bag they discovered thousands of Euro coins packed inside.
What is most confusing however is the sheer amount of weight these four flight attendants had to fly with while smuggling the coins, nearly 4,000 pounds of Euro coins annually. These 4,000 pounds of coins had to be packed with their regular bags and flight attendants departing China clear security, including having their bags x-rayed. How did these four flight attendants manage to consistently get their bags through security without raising suspicion? The sheer number of coins in their bags should have raised red flags with China’s airport security who in turn should have alerted China’s customs agents.
Aside from the miracle that these four flight attendants were never stopped by airport security while departing China … how did they manage to consistently walk into Bundesbank with sacks damaged coins, totaling €1,000 coins per sack, totally an estimated €20-million over four years, without the bank becoming suspicious?
This story is one of those that seems almost to odd due to all the logistics that had to come into place for it to occur over and over again over a four-year period.
Happy Flying … and if you happen to have a few thousand Euro coins in your bag, might I suggest converting them to paper notes before flying!