A Canadian man who was part of an elaborate swindle involving fake 1930s bonds supposedly worth $2.5-trillion (U.S.), was sentenced Friday to six years in a British prison.
Michael Slamaj, who settled in Canada in 1973 after leaving his native Yugoslavia, showed no emotion when Judge William Britles passed sentence for a crime that he said was driven by "greed."
"These offences are so serious that only an immediate prison sentence is justified," Judge Britles said in denying defence counsel's appeal for a suspended sentence.
Mr. Slamaj, 52, and Briton Graham Halksworth, 69, were found guilty by a jury six weeks ago of conspiracy to defraud. Mr. Slamaj was also convicted of possession of fake bonds and using them to obtain credit. He was sentenced to six years on each offence, but the judge ordered that the sentences be served concurrently.
Mr. Halksworth was also given a six-year prison sentence.
The con started to come undone when the men tried to cash $25-million of the U.S. Treasury Bonds at a bank in Toronto in 2001.
An RCMP officer became suspicious because the high-denomination notes, dated 1934, were printed for "dollar," rather than "dollars."
Further examination revealed they had been run off on an ink-jet printer, a curiosity given that the machine is a more modern invention.
The bonds had been authenticated by Mr. Halksworth, a widely experienced forensic scientist who has done work for a number of banks and helped introduce Scotland Yard's fingerprint system in the 1960s.
The documents were stored by the men in safety deposit boxes at banks in London, which police raided.
The scam further unravelled when Mr. Slamaj tried to enlist the help of a British lawyer in selling some of the bonds at a discounted rate, but the lawyer, Michael Segan, contacted the police instead.
"As soon as they mentioned the figures involved, I realized that this would have bought the planet twice over, and I knew they were con men," Mr. Segan told their trial in east London.
Mr. Slamaj contended that the case against him was part of a plot by the U.S. government, which wanted to make sure it never had to pay out on the bonds.
In addition to the spelling mistake, there were other errors, including the use of zip codes despite the fact that the numbers used by the U.S. postal service did not come into use until the early 1960s.
Like Mr. Slamaj, Mr. Halksworth also denied the charges against him, saying the bonds were sent by the U.S. government to anti-communist leader Chiang Kai-shek in the 1940s in exchange for 120 tonnes of gold.
The men claimed the plane carrying them crashed in the Philippines where they remained undiscovered in the jungle for decades before they were found by locals.
Mr. Slamaj, who is an engineer, said the bonds came into his possession during a visit to the Philippines when he was looking at building a factory to produce ethanol, a project he had been working on for years.
Police said the bonds were the work of a crime ring in the Philippines that Mr. Slamaj was involved with. The ring was trying to use the bonds to obtain credit.