North Korea’s government has produced more than $45 million in high-quality fake $100 bills since 1989 and is the world’s only state-sponsored producer of the so-called “supernote,” according to U.S. law-enforcement officials.
The recent arrest of Sean Garland, head of the communist Workers Party of Ireland, provided the first confirmation of the Pyongyang government’s links to the supernote or superdollar, which was discovered as part of a 16-year-old probe by the U.S. Secret Service, which is in charge of investigating illegal money production.
Vic Erevia, assistant special agent in charge of the criminal investigative division at the Secret Service, said the probe resulted in 160 arrests linked to counterfeiting and related activities worldwide.
Meanwhile, the State Department yesterday defended Treasury Department sanctions imposed in September on the Banco Delta Asia in Macao for its role in North Korean counterfeiting and money laundering.
“We said from the very beginning that we are not going to fail … to act concerning issues that are of concern to us, whether that happens to be on the human rights front, or whether that happens to be on taking steps to prevent disbursement of counterfeit U.S. bills on the world market,” said spokesman Sean McCormack.
The Treasury Department said senior officials at Banco Delta Asia handled large cash deposits, including counterfeit U.S. currency, supplied by North Korean officials and agreed to put the fake currency into circulation.
The department blocked the bank from doing business with U.S. financial institutions. Pyongyang suggested it might back out of the six-party nuclear talks in protest.
19 variations of note
“This is one of the most significant cases we’ve had, especially with this particular, highly deceptive counterfeit note,” Mr. Erevia said of the North Korean supernote. “The investigation remains active and ongoing.”
North Korea has produced 19 variations of the supernote since it first appeared in Manila in 1989, law-enforcement officials said. Each variation was an improvement and looked and felt almost identical to genuine $100 bills. A close look shows the printing on a supernote is slightly lighter than that on a genuine note.
The bills were printed on North Korea’s intaglio-process offset printing presses bought in the 1970s. The machines are used by governments worldwide to print currency and by private firms that do so.
The North Korean supernotes are considered the highest-quality forgeries and are better than the more numerous fake notes produced in Colombia. The officials said reports that Iran has produced supernotes are not true.
Pyongyang’s solo role
“In this case, we don’t have any indication that it was anyone other than North Korea that was producing the [supernote] from the very beginning,” said an official, who with colleagues revealed details of the case on the condition of anonymity.
A cashier found the first North Korean supernote in Manila in 1989. A short time later, a North Korean diplomat was caught passing forged notes in Belgrade.