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The Great Currency Swindle of 1924

Places > Dunstable > Crime

An interesting article in the Bedfordshire Magazine (Vol. 12. No. 95, 1970) by Vic Lea tells the story of 'The Great Currency Swindle' of 1924.

In December of that year Sir William Waterlow of Waterlow's banknote printing firm was unwittingly drawn into a daring crime to print false Portuguese banknotes.  The scam was perpetrated by a Dutch swindler called Marang van Ysselveere. He gave Sir William some cleverly forged documents as well as some authentic, but misappropriated ones, authorising an order of escudo notes to the value of 3,000,000.  Sir William accepted the documents and confirmed the order through official channels.  As the gang had placed members at the highest levels of the Portuguese Treasury a satisfactory reply to the order was received.

Marang needed to have the notes printed very quickly so that they could be rapidly converted to other currencies on the Continent because he knew that they would eventually be spotted by the Bank of Portugal. In order to achieve this quick turnover Marang stayed in Dunstable (in VIP accommodation) and visited Waterlow's everyday to encourage faster production.

When the swindle was detected (due to the circulation of bank notes with duplicate numbers) the Bank of Portugal had to act very quickly withdrawing all of the Vasco da Gama issue banknotes which amounted to nearly one quarter of the national finance. As a result, Portugal was faced with possible financial disaster.

Marang escaped Dunstable before the crime was uncovered but was brought to trial in 1926.  Nine trunks of bank notes that had been seized by the police were brought to the court and the President of the Bank of Portugal gave evidence. Marrang put up a clever defence and escaped with less than a year's detention after which he completely vanished from the public eye.  Many of the other gang members were never caught as the gang had covered their tracks so well that it was difficult to prove their guilt.

Waterlow's were later brought to court by the Bank of Portugal for an alleged breach of contract. The London Times covered the case in great detail regarding it of "exceptional interest" and "an imposition almost unique in audacity and scope" (Times, 23rd December 1930).


The Great Currency Swindle of 1924, by Bedfordshire Libraries, 2005

Page last updated: 24th January 2014