Fontgate: Foiled by a Font

Pakistan’s ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif thought he had “dotted all the i’s and crossed the t’s” when he presented Pakistan’s Supreme Court with supposed exculpatory documents that disproved corruption charges against him. The seemingly ironclad evidence was signed and dated February 2, 2006. The fake document would have been credible, except for a subtle oversight that forensic experts quickly spotted. The text was printed in Calibri, a font that was not widely available until 2007 –a full year later.

Created by Lucas de Groot, a Dutch type designer based in Berlin, Calibri had been around for a number of years, but was little known until Microsoft adopted a modified version of it to be the default font for its MS Office suite. After that, Calibri had become so ubiquitous that it probably didn’t even occur to the forgers to change the font. That likely was the case in Turkey too when the government accused about 300 people of plotting a coup, based on documents printed in Calibri and back dated to 2003.

For centuries, forged documents have been exposed through forensic analysis of inks, paper composition, handwriting, letter spacing, and idiosyncratic use of the language. The digital age has broadened forensic tools to include fonts, laser printing, and all kinds of electronic fingerprints.