U.S. accuses North Korea of $100 bill counterfeiting

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The Bush administration formally has accused North Korea of manufacturing high-quality counterfeit $100 “supernotes” for the first time, according to an indictment made public yesterday as part of a 16-year probe.

“Quantities of the supernote were manufactured in, and under auspices of the government of, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea),” said the indictment of Irish national Sean Garland and six others. “Individuals, including North Korean nationals acting as ostensible government officials, engaged in the worldwide transportation, delivery, and sale of quantities of supernotes.”

It was the first time the federal government provided details of North Korea’s suspected counterfeiting of U.S. currency. The May 19 indictment was unsealed Saturday after Mr. Garland was arrested in Belfast.

A Justice Department spokesman said the State Department will file a formal extradition request for Mr. Garland in the next several days.

Mr. Garland, leader of the Marxist-Leninist Worker’s Party, an arm of the Official Irish Republican Army, used his party contacts in North Korea and other nations to coordinate the purchase of fake $100 bills forged in North Korean, the indictment stated.

“This arrest is one of the most significant related to the 16-year-long investigation into the distribution of this family of highly deceptive counterfeit U.S. currency notes,” said U.S. Secret Service Special Agent James B. Burch, head of the Washington field office.

The indictment accuses Mr. Garland of meeting with North Korean government officials in Warsaw in 1997 to buy a quantity of supernotes.

The indictment is the second major U.S. case involving North Korean supernotes. In September, authorities in California arrested several Chinese nationals in connection with suspected North Korean supernote trafficking. That indictment, however, only identified North Korea as “country 2.”

U.S. officials said identification of North Korea as the source of the counterfeit notes was delayed in order not to upset the six-party talks in Beijing on North Korea’s nuclear arms program.

A tentative agreement on Pyongyang’s dismantling of its arms program was reached last month.

Mr. Garland and the six other men are charged with conspiring from 1997 to 2000 to buy more than $1 million in supernotes from the North Koreans during travels in Ireland, Britain, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Denmark, Czech Republic, Germany and elsewhere. Mr. Garland, through his lawyer, has denied the charges. He was released on bail Saturday.

The indictment also said that North Korea successfully modified its forged notes to include the new “big head” $100 bill — so named for its larger likeness of Benjamin Franklin — after the U.S. Treasury Department redesigned the bill in 1996 in an effort to thwart counterfeiters.

Prosecutors also accuse Mr. Garland of attempting to mask North Korea as the source of the counterfeit notes by limiting those with knowledge to a close circle of associates and telling others that Russia was the location where they were produced.

Using his position as Worker’s Party leader and his Dublin business known as GKG Communications International Ltd., Mr. Garland would make official party visits around the world to make arrangements for the supernote purchases, the indictment said.

The indictment indicates that North Korea was using its diplomatic outposts in Russia, Belarus and Poland to provide the supernotes to Mr. Garland and his accomplices.

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