Two Japanese men are detained in Italy after allegedly attempting to take $134 billion worth of U.S. bonds over the border into Switzerland. Details are maddeningly sketchy, so naturally the global rumor mill is kicking into high gear.
Are these would-be smugglers agents of Kim Jong Il stashing North Korea’s cash in a Swiss vault? Bagmen for Nigerian Internet scammers? Was the money meant for terrorists looking to buy nuclear warheads? Is Japan dumping its dollars secretly? Are the bonds real or counterfeit? …
Think about it: These two guys were carrying the gross domestic product of New Zealand or enough for three Beijing Olympics. If economies were for sale, the men could buy Slovakia and Croatia and have plenty left over for Mongolia or Cambodia. Yes, they could have built vacation homes amidst Genghis Khan’s Gobi Desert or the famed Temples of Angkor. Bernard Madoff who?
These men carrying bonds concealed in the bottom of their luggage also would be the fourth-largest U.S. creditors. It makes you wonder if some of the time Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner spends keeping the Chinese and Japanese invested in dollars should be devoted to well-financed men crossing the Italian-Swiss border….
t would be terrible news for the White House. Other than the U.S., China or Japan, no other nation could theoretically move those amounts. In the absence of clear explanations coming from the Treasury, conspiracy theories are filling the void.
On his blog, the Market Ticker, Karl Denninger wonders if the Treasury “has been surreptitiously issuing bonds to, say, Japan, as a means of financing deficits that someone didn’t want reported over the last, oh, say 10 or 20 years.” Adds Denninger: “Let’s hope we get those answers, and this isn’t one of those ‘funny things’ that just disappears into the night.”
This is still a story with far more questions than answers. It’s odd, though, that it’s not garnering more media attention. Interest is likely to grow. The last thing Geithner and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke need right now is tens of billions more of U.S. bonds — or even high-quality fake ones — suddenly popping up around the globe.