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Artur Virgílio Alves Reis (b. in Lisbon, September 3, 1898 - July 1955) was a Portuguesemarker criminal who perpetrated one of the largest frauds in history, against Banco de Portugal in 1925, often called the Portuguese Bank Note Crisis.

Early life

Alves dos Reis was a child of a humble family; his father was a financially troubled undertaker who ended up being declared insolvent. Reis wanted to study engineering. He started his degree but quit in the first year to marry Maria Luísa Jacobetty de Azevedo. In 1916 he decided to emigrate to Angolamarker which, at the time, was a Portuguese colony, to try to make a fortune and escape the humiliations from his wife's family, due to their differences in social status.

Reis forged himself a diploma of engineering, supposedly from Oxford Universitymarker, although in reality it was from a school which didn't exist: the "Polytechnic School of Engineering". According to the diploma, he had studied engineering sciences, geology, geometry, physics, metallurgy, pure mathematics, paleography, electric and mechanical engineering, applied mechanics and physics. He started as a public employee in the public sewers constructions and repairs. With an uncovered cheque, he bought the major part of the stocks of the Transafrican Railways of Angola, in Moçâmedes. He became rich and gained credit.

The Ambaca affair

Reis returned to Lisbonmarker in 1922. Back in Portugal he acquired a US car dealership and tried to take over the ailing company "Ambaca". He forged checks for over US $100,000, enough money to buy Ambaca, and then used its money reserves to cover the checks. He used the remaining money in an attempt to take over the Angola Mining Company. He was found out before he could take total control of the company and was arrested in July 1924 in Oportomarker for embezzling the Ambaca money. He was arrested for 54 days and was released on August 27, 1924 because of a technicality; he blamed a criminal conspiracy for his arrest.

Banco de Portugal plot

During his time in jail Reis conceived his most ambitious plot. It consisted of forging a contract in the name of Banco de Portugal (Bank of Portugal)- the central bank, responsible for issuing banknotes and partly private at the time - that would allow him to obtain illegitimate banknotes printed in a legitimate company and with the same quality as the real banknotes.

In 1924 Reis contacted potential (good faith) business partners and detailed his new plan. Among his accomplices and collaborators were the Dutchmarker financer Karel Marang van IJsselveere; German spy Adolph Hennies; Adriano Silva; Moura Coutinho; Manuel Roquette and José Bandeira, brother to António Bandeira, Portuguese Embassador in the Haguemarker.

Through José Bandeira, Reis acquired his brother's signature for his contract. Then Reis wrote up the fraudulent contract and had it officially notarized. He also acquired three certifications for the notarization in embassies of Britainmarker, Germanymarker and Francemarker. Then he rewrote the contract with a French translation, forged signatures of the Bank of Portugal officials and affixed the notarizations to the new contract to produce large banknotes. With this contract Reis gained cooperation of some Dutch entrepreneurs.

Next Karel Marang approached a Dutch printing company who declared that the specific banknotes had been printed by a British company, Waterlow and Sons Limited of Londonmarker. On 4th December, 1924, Marang approached Sir William Waterlow with a Dutch letter of introduction. He explained that for political reasons the contract required utmost discretion and promised that he would shortly receive appropriate documentation from Lisbon. The alleged objective for the banknotes was to conceal a big loan to the development of Angola.

When Waterlow received letters that authorized the printing - more of Reis' forgeries - he accepted the contract. He also wrote a letter to the governor of the Bank of Portugal, Inocêncio Camacho Rodrigues, in which he talked about the contacts with Marang, but the letter went astray. Reis's accomplices promised that they would stamp the word "Angola" onto the new notes, because the notes were supposed to circulate only in the colonies, so Waterlow could use serial numbers similar to banknotes that were already circulating in Portugal.

Waterlow and Sons Limited printed 200,000 banknotes of 500 Portuguese escudos (almost 1% of the country's GDP at the time) with an image of Vasco da Gama, with the date of 17 November 1922 worth 100 million escudos. Then, the number of false 500 escudos banknotes was almost as big as the real ones. First delivery was made in February 1925, one year after the real 500-escudo banknotes with the image of Vasco da Gama began to circulate. The notes would go from England to Portugal with the help of his accomplices, José Bandeira, who would use the diplomatic advantages of his brother, Karel Marang, and connections to the Liberianmarker consul in London. Reis proceeded to launder them into smaller denominations of genuine money.

Although Reis was the inventor of the fraud and the forger of all the documents, he received only 25% of the proceeds. Still, he became very wealthy and created the "Bank of Angola and Metropolis" in June 1925 to aid in circulation by promising higher interest. To obtain the license to open the bank, again he forged some documents. He invested heavily in currency and stock market and even created a minor upsurge in the Portuguese economy. He bought the Palace of the Golden Boy (Palácio do Menino de Ouro, nowadays the building of the British Council in Lisbon), 3 farms, a taxi fleet, and spent an enormous quantity of money in jewellery and expensive clothing for his wife and José Bandeira's lover, Fie Carelsen, a Dutch actress. He intended to purchase the newspaper Diário de Notícias, but failed.

However, the intent on Reis' investments were to take over the Bank of Portugal, so he could thwart any possible investigations to his scheme. During the Summer of 1925, he bought 7000 shares of the Bank. By the end of September he had 9000 and in November 10,000 shares - he needed 45,000 shares to gain control of the bank.

Discovery and arrest

Throughout 1925, rumours of fake banknotes arose, but the experts didn't detect any banknote that looked fake. On October 1925, a teller in Oportomarker, became suspicious and phoned bank officials in Lisbonmarker. Starting on 23 November 1925, Alves dos Reis and his shady business deals began to attract the curiosity of journalists at the newspaper O Século (Portuguese for "The Century"), the most important daily newspaper at the time. Journalists tried to understand how it was possible that Reis' bank, Banco de Angola e Metrópole, gave loans with low interest rates without the need of receiving deposits. Initially, it was thought that it was a German tactic to disturb the country and obtain advantages within the Angolan colony.

O Século publicly revealed the fraud on 5 December, 1925. The day before, the Bank of Portugal had sent the inspector João Teixeira Direito, to Oportomarker, to investigate the huge deposits by the Banco de Angola e Metrópole in banknotes of 500 escudos at the cambist firm Pinto da Cunha. They finally found banknotes with duplicated serial numbers. Authorities gave all the bank agencies an order to put their notes in the vault by order of serial number to control the duplicates and many more forged notes were found. The Bank of Portugal contacted Waterlow and Sons and Reis' scheme fell apart. On 6 December, Reis' bank's wealth was confiscated and Reis and most of his associates were arrested. Reis himself was arrested on board the Adolph Woerman en route to Portugal from Angola. He was 28 years old. Only Marang and Adolph Hennies, who was with Reis at the moment of his arrest, escaped.

In the following trial, Reis' forged documents were convincing enough for judges to suspect that the Bank of Portugal officials might be really involved. This delayed the sentence for five years but Reis was finally tried in May 1930. He was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison. In prison Reis became a Christian and led to the conversion of other prisoners. He was released in May, 1945, and was offered a job as a bank employee, but refused. Later He would be convicted for fraud, in a sale of coffee from Angolamarker, but didn't serve time.

Alves dos Reis died of a heart attack in poverty, in 1955.

Fate of other accomplices

Bandeira received a sentence similar to Reis. He died on 9 June 1957 in poverty.

Marang was tried in the Netherlands and sentenced for only 11 months. He later gained Frenchmarker citizenship and died very rich in Cannesmarker.

Hennies fled to Germany and reappeared later, under his real name, Hans Döring. He died on 1957 also in poverty.

Repercussions

Reis's fraud had enormous repercussions on the economy and politics of Portugal. By the end of 1925 Reis had managed to introduce escudo banknotes worth £1,007,963 at 1925 exchange rates into the Portuguese economy, which was equivalent to 0.88% of Portugal’s nominal GDP at the time.

The Portuguese escudo was fiscally disturbed and lost much of its credibility. After the scheme was found out, the Bank of Portugal ordered the withdrawal of all 500-escudo banknotes within 20 days, until December 26; 115,000 counterfeit notes were withdrawn.

When Reis's fraud became public knowledge in December 1925 it brought about a crisis of confidence in the Portuguese government. Although events of this period are still little understood, this crisis had a strong effect on the nationalist military 28th May 1926 coup d'état against the Portuguese First Republicmarker government and President Bernardino Machado that brought the Ditadura Nacionalmarker (National Dictatorship) to power, heralding the dictatorship of Prime Minister António de Oliveira Salazar from 1932 to 1968 (See: Estado Novomarker).

Banco de Portugal sued Waterlow & Sons in the High Courtmarker in Londonmarker. In one of the most complex trials in English legal history, the case was finally settled in the House of Lordsmarker on 28 April 1932 in favour of the Banco de Portugal, which was awarded £610,392 in damages. Waterlow & Sons' business never completely recovered; it was finally acquired by De La Rue in 1961. Sir William Waterlow had been dismissed as president of the printing house and was elected mayor of London in 1929. He died of peritonitis on 6 July 1931 before the final judgement of the House of Lords.

Current collectibles

In 27 October 2005, an auction was held with some of the fake notes with the starting bid estimated at 6,500 euros.

In popular culture

In 2000, Alves dos Reis life was depicted on a 50-episode TV series written by the former Polícia Judiciária investigator Francisco Moita Flores, with the full title Alves dos Reis, Um Seu Criado ("Alves dos Reis, Your Servant"), broadcasted by RTP1.

The fraud has been the subject of episode "Duplikát" of Czechoslovakiamarker-West Germanymarker TV series Dobrodružství kriminalistiky ("Adventure of Criminalistics"). Reis has been portrayed by Jan Teplý.

The fraud has been also the subject of Italymarker TV mini series Accadde a Lisbona .

Further reading

  • Murray Teigh Bloom - The Man Who Stole Portugal, London: Secker & Warburg (1966)
  • Andrew Bull - "Alves Reis and the Portuguese Bank Note Scandal of 1925" The British Historical Society No. 24: pp 22–57 (1997)
  • C Kisch - The Portuguese Bank Note Case London: Macmillan (1932)
  • Artur Virgilio Alves Reis - O Angola e Metrópole – "Dossier Secreto." Lisbon (1927)
  • Thomas Gifford - The Man from Lisboa 1977 (novel)


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