Euro coins earmarked by the Bundesbank to be scrapped were reassembled in China, Frankfurt state prosecutor Doris Möller-Scheu said in a statement. Flight attendants allegedly smuggled them back to Germany where they were swapped for legitimate currency at the central bank.
The gang netted an estimated €6 million.
The scam involved 29 tonnes of €1 and €2 coins sent to China as scrap metal, the statement said. Before they are sold as scrap, the gold and silver parts of the coins are broken apart. But the gang stuck the parts back together and then smuggled the coins back to Germany.
The Bundesbank is the only place in Europe that exchanges damaged coins at no cost.
Five people are in custody over the scam. A sixth has already been brought before a judge. They were aged 28 to 45. Four were Chinese.
They carried 29 tonnes of coins from China to Germany between 2007 and November 2010, and four flight attendants were allegedly involved in the scam.
In a statement, Lufthansa said it had been “made aware by the responsible authorities of an investigation into individual workers. We do not comment on state prosecutors' investigations.”
The Bundesbank in Frankfurt declined to comment for the moment. Despite initial reports that bank employees were also involved, the state prosecutor said that “no worker of the Bundesbank is under suspicion.”
Daily Bild reported that the scam came to light after a flight attendant drew attention by struggling with her heavy luggage. When customs officers opened the luggage, they found thousands of euro coins inside.
State prosecutor Doris Möller-Scheu confirmed to the paper: “An investigation for putting counterfeit money into circulation is underway against the suspects.”