YANGON — Shoppers in Yangon say some retailers are refusing to accept 10,000-kyat notes following a series of arrests this month of people using counterfeit bills, afraid they could unwittingly be next.
The use of counterfeit notes is not new in Myanmar, but it is rarely reported. The amounts have usually been small and the fake bills were typically easy to spot.
But the problem has come to the fore over the past month with arrests across Myanmar of people holding stacks of face 10,000-kyat notes.
“I went to a grocery to buy cooking utensils. When I tried to use a 10,000-kyat note, the shopkeeper rejected it and asked me to give her another note, saying she was afraid that the note might be fake,” said Daw Myint, a housewife from Tamwe Township.
Daw Khin Kyaw, a resident of Yangon’s Yuzana Garden City Housing, reported a similar experience.
“But not every shop rejects 10,000-kyat note,” she added.
Some say shopping centers are rejecting 10,000-kyat notes as well. Residents of Dagon Township said local offices of the Yangon Electricity Supply Corporation are even turning the notes down.
A couple from Singapore was arrested in Yangon last month after trying to use fake 10,000-kyat notes to pay the entrance fee for foreigners at Shwedagon Pagoda. They said they received the notes from a moneychanger in Singapore and have had a related lawsuit filed against them by police. Authorities in Singapore followed up on the couple’s claim by raiding 18 moneychangers in the island state, coming up with more counterfeit cash.
Also this month, a Myanmar woman was arrested after being found with $1,000 worth of fake 10,000-kyat notes in Bago Region. The woman had worked as a domestic helper in Singapore and said she received the bills from a moneychanger there. She has been charged under Article 105 of the Central Bank of Myanmar Law with knowingly using counterfeit currency and faces up to three years in jail if convicted.
In yet another case, from this week, a man was arrested in Naypyitaw and charged under the same law after transferring about 50 fake 10,000-kyat notes through a local bank.
Photos of shop signs asking customers not to pay with 10,000-kyat notes have started spreading on social media.
“As a wholesaler, we have to take 10,000-kyat notes. But we are very careful with them because there are fakes,” a pharmacist in Yangon’s Shwe Pyae Sone Market said.
U Than Lwin, an adviser to Kanbawza Bank, said the public should be educated about the problem but speculated that the Central Bank was wary of doing so for fear of making people think it was a bigger problem than it actually was.
On Dec. 14 the Central Bank issued a notice in state-run newspapers explaining how to identify the fake notes.
The Public Accounts Committee of the Union Parliament’s Upper House held a hearing with Central Bank officials on Thursday to ask them about the counterfeit notes as well as its recent controversial purchase of $30 million from local private banks.
Committee Chairman U Saw Than Htut said he urged the Central Bank officials to help secure bail for the people recently arrested for holding fake bills. The officials, he said, told the committee that they did not break the law if they did not know the bills were fake but added that their fates were up to the courts.
At a press conference in Naypyitaw on Friday, President’s Office spokesman U Zaw Htay said the government will take action against anyone found printing fake notes or knowingly distributing them. He said anyone using counterfeit cash unknowingly would not be punished.