Uganda tries U.S. national over counterfeiting ring

KAMPALA – A U.S. national on Thursday was put on trial in Uganda on charges of leading a counterfeiting ring.

Andrew Ryan Gustafson, 27, has been charged with possessing forged currency notes; unlawful possession of ammunition; conspiracy to commit an offence; selling items bearing designs in imitation of currency notes; and illegal entry into Uganda.

When police raided his home in December of 2014, they reportedly found computers, printers, paper and ink, along with tens of thousands of counterfeit U.S. dollars and two Taser guns.

Gustafson is accused of counterfeiting U.S. dollars, euros, Indian rupees, Ghanaian cedis and Congolese francs. 

U.S. Special Agent Chris Goode told the court on Thursday that, along with the Ugandan police force, U.S. law enforcement agencies had launched an investigation into the counterfeiting ring in October of 2013.

He added that, after obtaining several leads, Ugandan police had raided Gustafson's residence in Namugongo, a suburb in the Wakiso district outside Kampala, last Dec. 11.

"I took on an observer role as the Uganda police force entered Gustafson's residence," Goode told the court.

"In conjunction with the Uganda police force, we found the counterfeit notes in Andrews' residence," he added.

Goode also told the court that he – along with Ugandan officers at the Special Investigations Unit in Kampala – had gone over every single bill found in the suspect's possession and determined that they were all counterfeit.

He explained that the bills – found in denominations ranging from $20 to $100 and totaling some $108,400 – lacked all special features of genuine notes, including red and blue fibers, security threads, watermarks bearing the U.S. president's image, and micro printings that could only be seen with a microscope.

"Most counterfeiters cannot put these features on their notes because the process is too costly," Goode explained.

He went on to show the court the bills' serial numbers.

"When we put the numbers into our system, we realized that the notes had been used at gas stations, retail stores and food markets in several states in the U.S.," said Goode.

Some of the notes detected in the U.S. were then traced back to Uganda, where Gustafson was based.

Sporting a ponytail held together by a slim black hair band, Gustafson was dressed in a dark brown long-sleeved shirt with white stripes.

About 20 minutes into the 90-minute court session, the defendant, who had been standing, asked to sit down, saying he wasn't feeling well.

Gustafson denies all the charges against him.

Trial proceedings are set to resume on Friday.

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