The Lost Note of Bahrain

Peter Symes


In the Standard Catalog of World Paper Money, under the entry for Bahrain, there is a comment below the listing of the 1993 20-dinar note (No.16) to the effect that there was a second, unauthorized issue of the note. This description is a little misleading, as the word ‘unauthorized’ suggests a mistake on the part of the printer, or someone in a position of authority in the Bahrain Monetary Agency. The truth is rather more intriguing. These notes were part of a massive confidence trick that shook Bahrain and caused the withdrawal of an, as yet, uncatalogued 20-dinar note.

            In June 1998 Bahrain introduced modifications to the notes that had been issued since 1993. The modifications encompassed all denominations with the exception of the half-dinar note, which had been modified in 1996. The new feature, common to each denomination, was a windowed security thread with micro-printed text, which was wider than the solid thread of the 1993 issue. With the exception of the 1-dinar note, the notes of the 1998 issue also carry a hologram, which is placed at the lower left on the front of the notes. The hologram holds the head of an Oryx and the denomination of each note in Arabic numerals. For the 20-dinar note, as well as the addition of the hologram and the wide, micro-printed thread, the intaglio printing was all in purple, whereas for the previous issue it was purple and burgundy. This 20-dinar note is not catalogued in the Standard Catalog of World Paper Money and the reason it is not catalogued, is that it circulated for such a short period of time and very few notes found their way to the collector market, making it unknown to many dealers and collectors.

            Just when these notes were being introduced, in June 1998, a mighty confidence trick rocked the Bahrain Monetary Agency and threatened the stability of the Bahraini Dinar. The confidence trick began in late 1997 when several men successfully portrayed themselves as representatives of the Bank of Bahrain to the South African representative of Ciccone Calcografica, an Argentinian security printer based in Buenos Aires. On 2 December 1997 they met senior officials of Ciccone Calcografica in Buenos Aires and presented a forged order for 20-dinar notes from the Bahrain Monetary Agency. A contract for Ciccone Calcografica to supply 20-dinar notes was subsequently signed on 13 January 1998.

            In February Ciccone Calcografica ordered paper from a French banknote paper manufacturer. Eight tonnes of this paper, with watermark and windowed security thread, were shipped in good faith to Ciccone Calcografica by the French firm in April. Copying the printing plates from an original 20-dinar note prepared by Thomas De La Rue and Company, the notes were printed in May and June. Some notes were then shipped under control of the criminal gang to a number of countries, including Niger and Chad, where it has been suggested they were accepted by members of the military.

            In a period from 4 to 11 June 1998, around BD1.5 million was presented to branches of the Bahrain Monetary Agency in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. A number of foreign currency transactions involving Bahraini Dinars also took place in Lebanon, France and Belgium over the same period. The large transactions in Bahraini Dinars attracted attention, and the notes involved were inspected and found to be slightly different to the notes previously issued by the Bahrain Monetary Agency. A short time elapsed while inquiries were made to determine whether Thomas De La Rue had altered their plates for these notes. When it was determined that Thomas De La Rue had not printed these notes, it was realised that the large amount of notes being presented were counterfeits.

            The process of identifying the forgeries was undoubtedly confused by the recent release of the 20-dinar note with the hologram. At the time the forgeries were being presented for payment, there were three types of 20-dinar notes in circulation – the 1993 issue (without the hologram), the 1998 issue (with the hologram), and the 1998 forgeries (without the hologram).

            On 8 June 1998 the Bahrain Monetary Agency issued a press release announcing that the forgeries had come to their attention. The press release strongly advised that the forgeries were not legal tender, but they could be exchanged at the commercial banks by individuals who had accepted them in good faith. The press release identified two distinguishing features of the forged 20-dinar notes:

In placing a forged note beside a genuine note, many subtle differences can be identified. One of the easily identifiable features is the pattern behind the title of the issuing authority. On the genuine notes this pattern is even, whereas on the counterfeit notes the pattern is light at the top of the panel, graduating to a heavier pattern at the bottom of the panel.

            Six days after the initial press release, on 14 June 1998, the Bahrain Monetary Agency issued a second press release. After again stressing that the forgeries were not legal tender, the press release announced that, from Monday 15 June, the forgeries could no longer be exchanged at the commercial banks. Anyone presenting forged notes from this date did so ‘at his own risk and responsibility’.

            The Bahraini authorities moved quickly to repair the damage caused by the circulation of counterfeit notes. Bahrain ordered the withdrawal of all 20-dinar notes on 30 July 1998. Therefore, the 20-dinar note issued in June 1998, with the hologram, circulated for only six to seven weeks. On 1 August 1998 the Bahrain Monetary Agency issued a new 20-dinar note, which was of the same pattern as the previous 20-dinar notes, issued in 1993 and 1998, but was peach-coloured instead of purple. The new notes carried the hologram introduced to the recently released, high denomination notes.

            Although the introduction of the peach coloured 20-dinar note is the most obvious change to the notes after the discovery of the counterfeits, all notes, with the exception of the ½-dinar note, were subsequently changed to contain a solid security thread, as opposed to the micro-printed thread. (The ½-dinar note is known only in the narrow and wide variety of the security thread. Neither variety has micro-printing.)

            The quick withdrawal of all 20-dinar notes in July 1998 meant that the Bahrain Monetary Agency was limited in its losses due to the scam. However, it has also meant that very few of the genuine 20-dinar notes issued in 1998 have reached the collector market. It just goes to show that, despite the close attention paid to currency issues all over the world by astute collectors, modern rarities will appear due to a strange confluence of events.

Activate the hyperlink to view the four 20-dinar notes mentioned in this article.

This article was completed in March 2003
© Peter Symes