AS the putative descendant of a well-born Highland master

countefeiter, we take a not altogether censorious interest in the so far

undetected entrepreneurs who are reported to be flooding Japan with base

imitations of the gold coins that were minted to celebrate the sixtieth

anniversary of the succession of the late Emperor Hirohito.

It is reckooned that 100,000 of these fakes have been put into

circulation and they will represent a killing of some #42m.

The genuine commemorative coins of which 13 million were minted, each

had a face value of #414. To make the imitations the counterfeiters are

said to have used two tonnes of pure gold worth #16m.

It is a peculiarity of counterfeit gold coinage on the international

criminal market that traditionally it is not base metal. This is

explained by the fact that there never seemed to be enough British

sovereigns, the favourite currency, to go round.

Criminal transactions from illicit diamond buying to white slavery are

operated on a gold standard and since minted gold has a higher value

than bullion, the criminals would rather have it stamped however

illegally with our monarch's head, than take their payment in ingots.

This was confirmed some years ago when a high class Continental

counterfeiter was caught and imprisoned at Turin on a charge of having

minted 3625 British sovereigns. The laboratory tests showed that each of

these coins was 91.7% pure gold. A genuine sovereign is only 91.6% gold.

The accused's defence which was rejected was that he had committed no

fraud so long as his coins contained at least the same amount of gold as

the genuine article.And this, presumably, also went for the rest of the

haul which included Napoleons and Louis D'Ors to the value of #1m.

Indeed it could be and was argued that all that was false about them

was the dies was from which they had been stamped.

Our family connection with this particular branch of art and industry

lacked a comparable sense of responsibility in the matter of its raw

materials. We defer to our ancestor as the only one of our lot who so

far as we know has ever made money.

He ran his operation for seven years in the dungeon of Castle Sinclair

in Caithness. Its entrance was a secret passage from the laird's

bedroom. His craftsman was a talented and easily persuaded locksmith

from Banff called Arthur Smith. Between them they flooded the northern

counties of Scotland with so much slush that at last a Royal Commission

was sent from Edinburgh to Thurso. The officials who clearly knew their

place fell upon and arrested only Smith.

This enraged the local population who had nothing but admiration for

the laird's enterprise. A crowd assembled and was on the point of

rescuing Smith when his escorting officer settled the matter by shooting

him dead.

The popular displeasure at this summary execution was pacified by the

reasonable argument that, since Arthur Smith was dead, as they could

see, there was nothing more for the two sides to fight about.

Few of the more admirable swindles have required such an initial

outlay as the two tonnes of pure gold that are reported to have gone

into the imitation Hirohito coins. A golden tongue would seem generally

to be more than adequate.

We take for one of the more recent examples the case of Henry

Oberlander, a leading operator in the ''Hungarian circle'' of forgers

and conmen who concentrated on banks and tycoons whom they took for more

than #100m.

They specialised in fake letters of credit and bankers' drafts.

Henry's luck ran out in 1979 but not for long. Scotland Yard caught up

with him and at the Old Bailey he was sentenced to 18 years in prison.

At his trial the prosecuting counsel spoke of ''the fraud which if it

had not been checked would have undermined the banking system of

virtually the whole civilised world.''

Two years after his conviction Oberlander was released from Wormwood

Scrubs on compassionate grounds when it appeared that he had reached the

point of death from a diabetic condition.

His health improved immediately upon his release and, now apparently

going straight, he was giving instructive interviews from his safe haven

in New York, in which he demonstrated that the banking system is still

easy meat for the conman.

''I see some of the things that they are trying to do to stop

counterfeits,'' he says, ''but the newest anti-counterfeiting measures

wouldn't be good enough to stop me if I went back to the old business.

Nothing would stop me.''

We feel that respectful mention is also due to Sulun Osman of Istanbul

whose genius lay in his ability to sell famous buildings and public

property to members of the public. Among his transactions during a

career spanning 25 years was the sale of the bridge of the Golden Horn,

and the disposal of the Simplon-Orient Express to an eager purchaser.

He also sold the clocks in the city squares of Istanbul. ''I waited

under one of the clocks until someone stopped to correct his watch with

the time shown. I then asked him for 2.50 lires, and when he asked me

why I told him I owned the clock. While we were arguing an accomplice of

mine came along, looked at the clock, set his watch by it, and paid me

2.50 lire.

''The stranger was a trader from Anatolia. He asked me how much I was

making from the business. I told him and in the end I sold him the two

clocks in Deyazit Square for #100.''