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All great crimes depend for their successful execution upon a combination of circumstances and originality. Arthur Virgilio Alves Reis had a great project: To gain control of the Bank of Portugal. He was in the right circumstances: He was a businessman. He knew how to prepare official documents and he had useful friends. And he had originality: It was a once-only crime - no one had tried it before and nobody was likely to get away with it again. For while common forgers make their own banknotes, Alves Reis had his made for him - by Britain's leading security printers, Waterlow and Sons. No one could fault the Waterlow notes, as they were printed from the same plates and on the same paper as were used for the Bank of Portugal orders. They could hardly be described as counterfeit: except for a tell-tale flaw in their numbering they might never have been identified.
This is the dazzling but true story of the crime of the century. Alves Reis succeeded: Within two years he became the richest man in Portugal. His success led to an upheaval which brought Salazar to power, came near to ruining one of the world's great printing firms and (almost incidentally) ended in a twenty year stretch in Lisbon gaol. It may seem fantastic to us now as we read how the notes were collected from Waterlow's works in suitcases and dumped in the left luggage office at Liverpool Street Station, or how Sir William Waterlow (later Lord Mayor of London) went to such pains to conceal this 'confidential' transaction from his fellow directors, or how Reis became the 'Cecil Rhodes of Angola', but incredible as it is, it was all true. In this tensely organized and often sharply comic narrative, Murray Bloom reconstructs the crime, and describes the catastrophe that followed. Reverberations of the case can still be heard today. At the time, it shook the western world.