Monday, May 28, 2007
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
Order Code RL33324
North Korean Counterfeiting of U.S. Currency
March 22, 2006
Raphael F. Perl
Specialist in International Affairs
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
Dick K. Nanto
Specialist in Industry and Trade
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
North Korean Counterfeiting of U.S. Currency
The United States has accused the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
(DPRK or North Korea) of counterfeiting U.S. $100 Federal Reserve notes
(supernotes) and passing them off in various countries. This is one of several illicit
activities by North Korea apparently done to generate foreign exchange that is used
to purchase imports or finance government activities abroad.
Although Pyongyang denies complicity in any counterfeiting operation, at least
$45 million in such supernotes of North Korean origin have been detected in
circulation, and estimates are that the country earns from $15 to $25 million per year
from counterfeiting. The illegal nature of any counterfeiting activity makes opensource
information on the scope and scale of DPRK counterfeiting and distribution
operations incomplete. South Korean intelligence has corroborated information on
North Korean production of forged currency prior to 1998, and certain individuals
have been indicted in U.S. courts for distributing such forged currency. Media
reports in January 2006 state that Chinese investigators have independently
confirmed allegations of DPRK counterfeiting.
For the United States, North Korean counterfeiting represents a direct attack on
a protected national asset; might undermine confidence in the U.S. dollar and depress
its value; and, if done extensively enough, potentially damage the U.S. economy.
The earnings from counterfeiting also could be significant to Pyongyang, and may
be used to purchase weapons technology, fund travel abroad, meet “slush fund”
purchases of luxury foreign goods, or even underwrite the DPRK’s nuclear program.
U.S. policy toward the alleged counterfeiting is split between law enforcement
efforts and political and diplomatic pressures. On the law enforcement side,
individuals have been indicted and the Banco Delta Asia bank in Macao (a territory
of China) has been named as a primary money laundering concern under the Patriot
Act. This started a financial chain reaction under which banks, not only from the
United States, but from other nations have declined to deal with even some legitimate
North Korea traders. North Koreans appear to be moving their international bank
accounts to Chinese and other banks. Pyongyang has cited the Banco Delta Asia
action in refusing to return to the six-party talks on its nuclear program.
The political/security track attempts to stop the alleged counterfeiting activity
though diplomatic pressures, the Illicit Activities Initiative, the Proliferation Security
Initiative, and back channel talks. Bush Administration policymakers reportedly are
divided between those favoring a negotiated settlement, (verifiable curtailment of
illicit activities and a return to the six-party talks) and those favoring an approach of
tightening economic sanctions and other measures designed to undermine support for
the ruling regime and compel a change in policy. Currently the Administration’s
policy reportedly is to pressure North Korea, but keep the negotiations going. This
report will be updated as needed.
U.S. Interests . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
Limits on Information . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2
The Need to Counterfeit Currency . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
Alleged Areas of DPRK Criminal Activities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
Amount of Bogus U.S. Currency . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
Denial of Counterfeiting by North Korea . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
State-Sponsored Counterfeiting? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
A Summary of Main Points . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
Policy Implications . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
1 See section “Amount of Bogus U.S. Currency,” below.
North Korean Counterfeiting of U.S.
The United States has accused the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
(DPRK or North Korea) of counterfeiting U.S. $100 Federal Reserve notes
(supernotes) and passing them off in various countries. This is one of several illicit
activities by North Korea apparently done to generate foreign exchange that is used
to purchase imports or finance government activities abroad.
The purpose of this report is to provide a summary of what is known from open
sources on the DPRK’s alleged counterfeiting of U.S. currency, examine North
Korean motives and methods, and discuss U.S. interests and policy options.
Although Pyongyang denies complicity in any counterfeiting operation,
estimates are that at least $45 million in such supernotes of North Korean origin are
in circulation and that the country earns from $15 to $25 million per year from
counterfeiting.1 South Korean intelligence has corroborated information on past
production of forged currency — at least until 1998 — and several U.S. court
indictments indicate that certain individuals have been accused of distributing such
forged currency more recently.
For the United States large-scale counterfeiting of U.S. currency, whether done
by North Korea or not, has a direct bearing on U.S. interests. The counterfeiting,
itself, could undermine confidence in the U.S. dollar and, if done extensively enough,
potentially damage the U.S. economy. It also is a direct attack on a protected asset
of the United States and a violation of U.S. and other laws. If being done by the
DPRK government, it violates accepted international norms. It also could affect the
willingness of financial institutions in certain areas to accept legitimate U.S.
currency, or it might induce them to impose surcharges when exchanging certain U.S.
banknotes for their currency.
In a broader sense, the counterfeiting, to the extent that North Korea is the
nation involved, arguably affects U.S. national security. North Korea is a Stalinist
regime with self-announced aspirations to become a nuclear power. It is led by a
communist dictator with a taste for luxury imports and need to subsidize his inner
circle of supporters and broader ranks of party cadres. Yet the North Korean
economy scarcely produces enough to feed its population and incurs a billion-dollar
trade deficit each year. Proceeds from counterfeiting could be used to maintain the
2 See Department of the Treasury — Budget in Brief FY 2007, p. 87 of the hard copy of the
regime’s power or contribute to instability in East Asia. In February 2006,
Pyongyang claimed that it would not return to the six-party talks on ending its
nuclear weapons program because of financial measures taken by the United States
to prevent the country from laundering proceeds from its alleged illicit activities
through a Macao bank. This is the second such boycott of the talks. Pyongyang
justified its first boycott (August 2004 to July 2005) citing U.S. “hostile policies.”
The United States is ratcheting up a two-pronged approach to stem the alleged
North Korean counterfeiting of U.S. currency. The first is through law enforcement
initiatives. The second is through political and diplomatic efforts. The immediate
goal is to bring a verifiable halt to both the production and distribution of bogus U.S.
currency by North Korea. In the broader perspective, curbing North Korea’s illicit
activities is one piece of an overall strategy to defuse tensions in Northeast Asia and
induce Pyongyang to adopt policies less inimical to its own people, the region, and
A redesign of the U.S. $100 bill is currently in progress to include enhanced
technologies to deter counterfeiters. The Department of the Treasury expects to
introduce the redesigned note to the public in 2007.2 However, bills previously
produced, are expected to remain in circulation for the foreseeable future making it
possible for the DPRK to continue to circulate earlier production runs of its
Limits on Information
Because counterfeiting is a form of clandestine criminal activity, a goal of those
engaged in it is that it remain clandestine and undetected to the maximum extent
possible. Thus, to the extent that the United States and other countries have
information on the scope and scale of DPRK counterfeiting and distribution
operations, such information is likely to be incomplete. As the DPRK is a relatively
closed society, information on any production of counterfeit U.S. currency there —
other than that received from defectors — is likely to be the product of intelligence
sources and methods. Hence, it is unlikely that such information would be made
public for fear of compromising ongoing intelligence gathering operations.
On the other hand, involvement of DPRK citizens and officials in the
distribution of so called “supernotes” is more readily demonstrated once criminal
investigations have been completed, arrests have been made, indictments issued, and
convictions/and or confessions obtained. Indeed, a number of such indictments have
been issued, and presumably a number of ongoing investigations remain in the
pipeline. U.S. officials appear to be increasingly sensitive to a need to support public
allegations with the weight of de facto legal evidence — fueling speculation that
3 Pichirallo, Joe. “Indictments Depict Noriega As Drug-Trafficking Kingpin; U.S. Had
Long Backed Panamanian Leader.” The Washington Post, February 6, 1988. pg. a.01.
4 Note that such estimates of scale of the DPRK’s foreign exchange deficit may be
exaggerated as the amount may be offset by undetermined amounts of aid from the Peoples
Republic of China.
5 See generally CRS Report RL32167, Drug Trafficking and North Korea: Issues for U.S.
Policy, by Raphael Perl.
6 In July 2004, for example, the U.S. Secret Service reportedly uncovered a network selling
counterfeit North Korean made cigarettes, pharmaceuticals, and $100 bills. See Frederik
Balfour et. al., “Fakes,” Business Week, February 7, 2005. Criminal indictments
subsequently ensued. See generally: BBC News, “What is a superdollar?”, June 20, 2004.
“Noreiga-type” criminal indictments3 against the North Korean leadership may be a
policy option under active consideration.
Also at issue is the credibility of information provided U.S. authorities by the
South Korean government and its National Intelligence Services in matters involving
Pyongyang’s criminal activities. Whereas in past years Seoul’s reporting on such
matters was considered highly reliable, some now suggest downplaying the scope of
any such activity better dovetails with the goals and objectives of Seoul’s more recent
conciliatory unification policy vis-a-vis the North.
The Need to Counterfeit Currency
North Korea needs to raise approximately $1 billion per year to fund its
merchandise trade deficit.4 The DPRK imports more than it exports and must
generate enough foreign exchange to cover the difference through some means —
either legal or illegal. Legal means include borrowing, foreign investments, foreign
aid, remittances from overseas Koreans, selling military equipment not reflected in
trade data, and by selling services abroad. Illegal methods include the counterfeiting
of hard currency, illegal sales of military equipment or technology, sales of illegal
drugs, or by shipping illegal cargo between third countries. The country also can dip
into its meager foreign exchange reserves. North Korea considers the United States
to be a hostile nation and often takes actions commensurate with that policy.
Alleged Areas of DPRK Criminal Activities
Allegations of North Korean drug production, trafficking, and crime- for- profit
activity have become the focus of rising attention in Congress, the Administration,
and the press, as well as in the diplomatic community.5 Areas of DPRK criminal
activity commonly cited include production and trafficking in: (1) heroin and
methamphetamines; (2) counterfeit cigarettes; (3) counterfeit pharmaceuticals (for
example “USA” manufactured Viagra); and (4) counterfeit currency (e.g., U.S. $100
7 Press conference of the President, January 26, 2006, p.9. [http://www.whitehouse.gov/
8 See testimony of John Negroponte before the Senate Intelligence Committee on the issue
of Worldwide Threats to the United States, February 2, 2005. Note that Negroponte’s
remarks came at a time when the six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear ambitions
remained stalled over North Korea’s insistence that the United States remove proposed
Treasury Department sanctions against Banco Delta Asia for its alleged role in laundering
proceeds of DRPK criminal activity and distributing of DPRK produced counterfeit U.S.
currency. See “North Korean Counterfeiting Complicates Nuclear Crisis,” by Martin
Fackler, New York Times, January 29, 2006, p. 3.
9 Bach, William. Hearing Testimony. Drugs, Counterfeiting, and Weapons Proliferation:
The North Korean Connection. Hearing Before the Financial Management, the Budget, and
International Security Subcommittee of the Committee on Governmental Affairs, United
States Senate 108th Congress, First Session, S.Hrg. 108-157, May 20, 2003. p. 6.
10 U.S. Department of State, Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement
DPRK production and trafficking of “supernotes” have been addressed in 2006
by both National Intelligence Director John Negroponte and President George W.
Bush. In a January 26, 2006, White House Press Conference, President Bush — in
commenting on the issue of income generated by North Korean criminal activity —
When somebody is counterfeiting our money, we want to stop them from doing
that. And so we are aggressively saying to the North Koreans, just — don’t
counterfeit our money. And we are working with others to prevent their illicit
Shortly thereafter, National Intelligence Director John Negroponte, in testimony
before Congress, stated that North Korea “produces and smuggles abroad counterfeit
U.S. currency as well as narcotics and other contraband.”8
In a Senate Committee on Government Affairs hearing in 2003, William Bach,
the Director of the Office of African, Asian and European Affairs in the Bureau for
International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs of the U.S. Department of
The U.S. Secret Service Counterfeit Division is aware of numerous cases of
counterfeiting with North Korean connections. Typical of such cases was one
reported in Macao in 1994, when North Korean trading company executives,
who carried diplomatic passports, were arrested for depositing $250,000 in
counterfeit notes in a Macao bank. There are numerous other counterfeiting
incidents with links to Macao banks, North Korea, and North Korean diplomats.9
The State Department’s 2006 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report
released by the Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs
states that, for decades, citizens of the DPRK “have been apprehended trafficking in
narcotics and engaged in other forms of criminal behavior, including passing
counterfeit U.S. currency.” These have been carried out in league with criminal
organizations around the world.10
Affairs. International Narcotics Control Strategy Report — 2006. March 2006. Part II.
11 See “The ‘Soprano State?’ North Korean Involvement in Criminal Activity and
Implications for International Security,” by Sheena E. Chestnut (hereinafter cited as
Chestnut), Stanford University Honors Thesis, May 20, 2005, p.81 citing Cumings, Bruce,
Korea’s Place in the Sun: A Modern History (Norton, New York) 1997, and Michishita,
Narushigwe, “Calculated Adventurism: North Korea’s Military-Diplomatic Campaigns,”
Korean Journal of Defense Analysis, Vol. XVI, No.2, Fall 2004. Note that the term
“Soprano State”was originally coined by U.S. News and World Report investigative
journalist David Kaplan in 2003; see “The Far East Sopranos,” by David E. Kaplan, U.S.
News and World Report, January 27, 2003.
12 See “Seoul’s U-Turn on N. Korean Counterfeiting Could be Fatal,” Chosun Ilbo (English
Edition), December 25, 2005. The title of the 1988 report is cited as “A New Threat in the
21st Century: Realities and Responses to International Crimes.”
13 See “Korea Exchange Bank cuts ties with Macau bank accused of laundering money for
North Korea,” Associated Press Report (Seoul) Feb. 3, 2006. See also “No sign of North
Korea making fake bills since 1998: spy agency,” Yonhap, Feb. 3, 2006. Note that media
reports contain at least a handful of reports by defectors that lend credence to the notion that
the DPRK produced counterfeit greenbacks under government direction prior to 1996. For
a consolidated overview of such reports see Sheena Chestnut, Soprano State, pp. 86-89.
14 See “Seeking international cooperation to stop manufacturing of North Korea’s money,”
Chosun Ilbo (Internet Version), December 27, 2005. Media report suggestions that the
DPRK may have ceased production of counterfeit greenbacks prior to the end of 1998,
however, may be contradicted by at least one defector who fled the North in 2000.
According to one press report, the defector, a chemist connected to the Sean Garland case,
Counterfeiting of foreign currency is apparently a phenomenon that is not new
to the government of North Korea. Seoul’s War Memorial Museum reportedly
contains DPRK-manufactured South Korean currency from the 1950’s, the
production of which reportedly continued into the 1960’s.11 South Korean media
reports cite a 1998 South Korean National Intelligence Service (NIS) Report to the
effect that North Korea forges and circulates U.S. $100 banknotes worth $15 million
a year. Subsequent reports to the South Korean National Assembly in the same year
and in 1999 are cited in the media as stating that North Korea operates three banknote
forging agencies and that more than $4.6 million in bogus dollar bills had been
uncovered on thirteen occasions since 1994.12
Subsequent press reports (of February 2, 2006) cite a Uri Party Member of
Parliament’s account of a closed briefing by South Korea’s National Intelligence
Service to members of Korea’s National Assembly to the effect that North Koreans
were arrested abroad for counterfeiting offenses in the 1990’s but that the Service had
no evidence of the North making bogus currency after 1998.13 Informed South
Korean sources have confirmed the above stated content of the briefing, but insist
that the NIS lack of hard evidence of DPRK supernote production after 1998 should
not necessarily be construed to mean that such activity has ceased. Post -1998 South
Korean media reports note that South Korean authorities have continued to seize
bogus U.S. currency — including 1,400 counterfeit U.S. $100 bills in April 2005, but
that they have not traced the source.14 Subsequent press reports state that the United
was reportedly part of a team of North Korean experts ordered to produce fake U.S. $100
bills. However, what is publically known about him, his activities, and their connection to
the DPRK regime appears at this point to be anecdotal and sketchy at best. See
“Counterfeiting cases point to North Korea,” by Josh Meyer and Barbara Demick, L. A.
Times, Dec. 12, 2005. Note that often statements by individuals termed “North Korean
defectors,” have been considered unreliable when it comes to intimate knowledge of highly
secretive, closed, DPRK programs.
15 See “U.S. says S. Korea fake notes made in North,” by Jon Herskovitz and Jack Kim,
Reuters, Feb. 27, 2006. Accounts in subsidiaries of the Bank of China, Hong Kong have
been frozen as a result of reported links to the DPRK’s trade in supernotes, and other
criminal activities. See “HK link to Pyongyang ‘supernotes’ N Koreans have cut counterfeit
deals in the city, with payments made via Bank of China subsidiary,” by Greg Torode, South
China Morning Post, February 26, 2006.
16 See “Seeking international cooperation to stop manufacturing of North Korea’s money,”
Chosun Ilbo (Internet Version), December 27, 2005.
17 See “North Korean Counterfeiting Complicates Nuclear Crisis,” by Martin Fackler, New
York Times, January 29, 2006, p. 3.
18 See generally, remarks of Acting Assistant Attorney General, John C. Richter of Aug.22,
States has provided South Korea with examples of DPRK source counterfeit 2001
& 2003 series $100 notes. Moreover, the U.S. has reportedly determined that at least
$140,000 worth of counterfeit notes seized by South Korean police in April 2005 was
manufactured in the DPRK as part of a batch produced in 2001, and distributed by
On June 13, 2003, South Korea, the United States and Japan held a North Korea
policy coordination group meeting and announced an agreement that reportedly
stated, “The three countries’ delegations express concern about the illegal activities
of organizations in North Korea, including drug smuggling and money
counterfeiting.”16 Moreover, media reports as recent as January 20, 2006 stated that
Chinese investigators have independently confirmed allegations of DPRK
Arrests and indictments point to DPRK trafficking in bogus U.S. currency as
recently as 2005. In August 2005, federal law enforcement authorities completed two
undercover operations in New Jersey and in California which focused on the
activities of members of China’s Triad criminal syndicates. The operations, named
Royal Charm and Smoking Dragon, reportedly netted some $4 million in supernotes
believed to be of North Korean origin. Illicit narcotics, and counterfeit brand
cigarettes and pharmaceuticals were seized as well. U.S. government authorities
indicate there is the potential that ensuing trials and/or the plea bargaining process
will reveal direct links between some of the smugglers and North Korean officials or
One of the indictments issued in the above cited cases identifies Chao Tung Wu,
a Taiwanese in custody for dealing in counterfeit bills, and alleges that he told
19 See “Arrest ties Pyongyang to counterfeit $100 bills,” by Bill Gertz, Washington Times,
Sept. 20, 2005, p. A1.
20 See “North Korean Counterfeiting Complicates Nuclear Crisis” by Martin Fackler, New
York Times, January 29, 2006, p. 3. See “Garland stands accused by US over counterfeit
made in North Korea,” Irish Times, October 17, 2005. Garland was arrested October 7,
2005, as a result of pending U.S. proceedings against him. See also Department of Justice
Press Release of October 8, 2005, on Arrest of Leader of Irish Workers Party.
21 See Federal Register, Vol. 70 No. 181, Sept. 20, 2005(Notices), p. 55214. The finding
asserts that at least one regular North-Korean-front client of BDA was widely reported to
be conducting “numerous illegal activities, including distributing counterfeit currency and
smuggling counterfeit tobacco products” for over a decade. See also Department of
Treasury Press Release of September 15, 2005, (JS-2720) on Treasury Designation of Banco
Delta Asia as a Primary Money Laundering Concern and Treasury Dept. FINCEN Advisory
of December 13, 2005, on Guidelines to Financial Institutions on the Provision of Banking
Services to North Korean Government Agencies and Associated Front Companies Engaged
in Illicit Activities which encourages financial institutions worldwide to take precautions
that they are not used as a conduit for the laundering of proceeds of DPRK illicit activities.
22 See Federal Register, Vol. 70 No. 181, Sept. 20, 2005(Proposed Rules), p. 55217. Note
that the practical effect of such special measures, if and when put into effect, would be to
prohibit BDA and BDA affiliated financial institutions from doing business in the United
23 See Wall Street Journal Asia, “North Korea’s economy feels fallout of U.S. move-Lenders
sever ties after sanction threat against Macau bank,” by Gordon Fairclough, Feb. 14, 2006.
Note that as generally private North Korean individuals do not hold accounts outside the
country, widespread speculation exists that the nine individual accounts seized belong to the
upper echelons of the DPRK elite. The U.S. has accused Banco Delta Asia of accepting and
circulating DPRK origin supernotes.
undercover agents that the government of a nation — identified in the indictment as
“country 2” — was producing counterfeit notes.19 Country two has been widely cited
in the media as being North Korea. Another law enforcement operation led to the
arrest in Northern Ireland of Sean Garland, a leading member of an Irish Republican
Army faction on charges of circulating more than $1 million of supernotes (believed
to be DPRK government produced) in Britain and Eastern Europe.20 A request for
his extradition to the United States ensued in mid-October 2005.
In September 2005, U.S.A. Patriot Act Section 311 designations were imposed
against Banco Delta Asia (BDA) in Macau. A subsequent finding was issued that
BDA is a Financial Institution of Primary Money Laundering Concern21 resulting in
a proposed order imposing special measures against Banco Delta Asia.22 Following
the U.S. actions, the Macau government took control of BDA in Macau and shut
down all North Korea-related accounts including, according to press reports,
accounts belonging to 20 DPRK banks, 11 DPRK trading companies, and 9
individuals from North Korea.23
A Stanford University Honors Thesis Researcher, Sheena Chestnut, lists
thirteen reported incidents since 1994 of North Korean involvement in
smuggling/distributing counterfeit U.S. currency. All of these incidents allegedly
occurred in either Asia or Europe. In them, the use of DPRK diplomatic passports
24 See Chestnut, pp. 144-145. The South Korean media reports that authorities there had
discovered 1,400 supernotes (presumed to be of DPRK origin) in April 2005, but little more
is known about such reports. See “DPRK’s manufacturing of counterfeit money was
common sense within the National Intelligence Service,” Chosun Ilbo (Internet Version)
December 27, 2005.
25 Torode, Greg. “Fake US Supernotes Find Their Way to HK. Pyongyang’s Counterfeit
Bills Are Seized from American in Transit.” South China Morning Post, March 5, 2006,
p. 3. Supernotes have reportedly shown up on 2005-2006 in Peru, Paraguay, Mongolia,
Hong Kong, and Ethiopia.
26 See Sanger, David E., “U.S. Is Shaping Plan to Pressure North Korea,” New York Times,
February 14, 2005,p. A-1. Note that this amount is more likely to be $48 million, although
apparently not publically cited.
27 See discussion in CRS Report RL32167, Drug Trafficking and North Korea: Issues for
U.S. Policy, by Raphael Perl. See also CRS Report RL32493, The North Korean Economy:
Background and Policy Analysis, by Dick Nanto and Emma Chanlett-Avery. For the $15
million figure on counterfeiting, see Korea Herald, Nov.16, 1998. See also, “Is Your
Money Real?”, Newsweek, June 10, 1996, p. 10. According to some sources, income from
counterfeiting is considerably higher, i.e. $100 million. (See May 20, 2003 congressional
testimony of Larry Wortzel of the Heritage Foundation.) It is said that the U.S. detects
somewhere around $3-4 million per year in DPRK origin supernotes. Rough calculations of
the total amount of DPRK bogus supernotes in circulation in recent years are achieved by
and the involvement of DPRK diplomats, embassy personnel, and DPRK government
trading company officials connect most of these incidents to the government of North
Korea in varying degrees. Taken collectively, the link is seen as being even stronger.
Of these 13 incidents, 6 have occurred since 1999, the time after which the NIS
reportedly is unable to conclude that the DPRK continued producing counterfeit
notes.24 As recently as March 2006, counterfeit supernotes were reportedly seized by
police in Hong Kong from a Chinese-American man in transit from Macau.25
Amount of Bogus U.S. Currency
The amount of alleged DPRK-produced counterfeit currency in circulation is
unknown. U.S. officials have been quoted citing a figure of $45 million since 1989.26
Presumably this is the amount detected by the Federal Reserve. Officials familiar
with the bogus currency in question, however, note its exceptional quality — so good
that many cashier-level bank employees would likely not be able to detect the
forgeries. This raises speculation that North Korea — if it is indeed producing the
fakes — might need somehow to mark the currency to be able to identify its own
bogus notes after production.
The amount of money that the bogus supernotes allegedly bring to the coffers
of the North Korean government is unknown as well. Hence, estimates of the profit
such transactions bring to the Pyongyang regime — to the extent they are based on
open source material — are speculative at best. Amounts commonly cited, which
take into account many factors, range from $15 million to $25 million in profit per
year.27 It has been reported that in the North Korean counterfeit currency market, a
multiplying this figure by a factor of 3 or 4 for an estimate of 9-$16 million being placed in
circulation per year. However, the exact amount remains elusive given the fact that much
of the currency is passed in remote places and arguably banks have no financial incentive
to report such forgeries if they can pass them on. Data on amounts of U.S. dollars
counterfeited are not widely publicized so as not to undermine confidence in the U.S. dollar.
North Korean counterfeit U.S. $100 notes have been detected in at least 14 countries
including the United States since the 1970’s according to media reports. On June 20, 2004,
the BBC aired a “Superdollar” special which traced counterfeit $100 bills from North Korea
to an official IRA source in the U.K. Reportedly millions of fake $100 bills were laundered
through a bureaux de change in Britain. In July, 1996, a former member of the Japanese Red
Army, traveling on a DPRK diplomatic passport was arrested in Thailand while trying to
pass counterfeit U.S. $100 bills. See “Japanese Fake Bill Suspect Had N. Korean Passport,”
Kyodo News, July 5, 1996. For data on other forms of DPRK criminal/smuggling activity,
see Avoiding the Apocalypse: The Future of the Two Koreas, by Marcus Noland, Institute
for International Economics, Washington, D.C., June 2000, p.119. U.S. military sources
reportedly estimated DPRK income from counterfeiting of U.S. currency at $15-20 million
for the year 2001. See “N.K. Exported $580 Million Worth of Missiles to Middle East,”
Seoul Yonhap (English), May 13, 2003, citing Japanese Yomiuri Shimbum report of May 12,
28 “Smuggler’s Tale: The Chinese Connection.” Dong’A Ilbo (Internet version) January 27,
2006. Reported by Open Source Center.
29 This is but one of a string of DPRK denials. David L. Asher, former Coordinator of the
State Department’s North Korea Working Group, in his February 1, 2006 remarks to the
American Enterprise Institute cited another DPRK denial: “We had neither counterfeited
currency nor gotten involved in any illegal trafficking.”
30 See KCNA (official North Korean News Agency) broadcast of 1006 GMT, February 9,
printed counterfeit $100 bill trades at 30% of its face value while electronically
copied currency made with color copy machines trades at 10% of its face value.28
Denial of Counterfeiting by North Korea
The DPRK has consistently denied allegations of state involvement in criminal
activity, specifically in any counterfeiting activity, and it has vowed to resist U.S.
pressure over the matter. A January 24, 2006 commentary carried by the state-run
Korean Central News Agency reported that Pyongyang “does not allow such things
as bad treatment of the people, counterfeiting, and drug trafficking.”29 In what may
be an indication of DPRK willingness to curb any illicit counterfeiting activity, the
DPRK Foreign Ministry announced on February 9, 2006, that “there is no evidence
proving (North Korea’s) issue of counterfeit notes or money laundering” but that the
country “will as ever actively join the international actions against money
laundering.... It is the consistent policy of the (North Korean) government to oppose
all sorts of illegal acts in the financial field.” The Foreign Ministry spokesman went
on to say that the DPRK has “perfect legal and institutional mechanisms to combat
such illegal acts as counterfeiting notes and money laundering, and any illegal acts
are liable to severe punishment.”30
2006. Reported in “North Korea vows to join international anti-money laundering drive,”
MSN News, Feb. 9, 2006, and untitled AP report from Seoul of February 9, 2006.
Statements by a DPRK Foreign Ministry spokesperson are typically reserved for high level
communications with the outside world. Reuters and Agence France Presse (AFP) reported
on the broadcast as well.
31 See CRS Report RL32493, The North Korean Economy: Background and Policy Analysis,
by Dick Nanto and Emma Chanlett-Avery, January 2005. For a discussion of U.S. response
options reportedly reviewed see “U.S. is Shaping Plan to Pressure North Korea,” by David
E. Sanger, New York Times, Feb. 14, 2005, A-1.
Assuming that production of bogus U.S. currency is actually taking place in
North Korea, some suggest that this does not necessarily mean that such activity is
being done under government sponsorship, direction, or supervision. They argue that
counterfeiting is a criminal phenomenon that is widespread throughout the world, and
it is rarely, if ever, state-sponsored. Others say that there may be merit to such
arguments, but North Korea could be an exception to any such norms.
It can be said that it is widely acknowledged that the Pyongyang regime engages
— or has engaged — in a broad range of other crime for profit activity. Hence,
inhibitions against counterfeiting may not be strong. The sophisticated type of
equipment reportedly required for the production of supernotes is generally tightly
controlled and generally restricted for sale to governments. Finally, North Korea is
a closed authoritarian regime, and, as such, it is unlikely that any counterfeiting
activity — which requires centralized production — would not be government
sponsored, or at some point, come under government control.
A Summary of Main Points
Information publically available suggests an expansion in both the scale and
scope of North Korean cash-generating, criminal activity. This possibly indicates a
situation in which criminal activity is playing an increasingly pivotal role in
supporting North Korea’s fragile economy. 31
It is widely acknowledged that undetermined millions of dollars of so-called
U.S. $100 supernotes are currently in circulation. Given the sophistication of the
bills, many have concluded that they are government produced. The government of
North Korea has a demonstrated history of engaging in criminal activity to raise cash.
It arguably has the disposition, opportunity, and technical means to produce forged
Past production by North Korea of forged U.S. currency — at least until 1998
— has been reported by South Korea’s National Intelligence Service. Indications of
Pyongyang’s more recent production of forged U.S. currency have seemingly been
posited by defectors, and by Chinese investigators as well.
32 Note for example, that one operation against what is believed to be North Korean linked
contraband smugglers reportedly netted not only some $4 million in supernotes, but also
$700 in counterfeit U.S. postage stamps. See “Crime does pay for North Korea,” by Peter
Brooks, Boston Herald (op-ed), January 17, 2006.
33 Note that press reports indicate that the U.S. Secret Service estimates $43.4 million in
counterfeit currency was circulated in the United States in 2004 alone. It is estimated that
$700 billion in genuine U.S. currency exists worldwide. Generally, disclosure that large
amounts of U.S. currency in use worldwide might be bogus would likely be seen not to serve
the best interests of the nation. As a result, some suggest the United States may be
downplaying the scale of alleged DPRK counterfeiting activity — but nevertheless
according it the high policy priority the actual level of such activity warrants.
34 See footnote number 18.
35 Asher, David L. “The North Korean Criminal State, its Ties to Organized Crime, and the
Possibility of WMD Proliferation.” The Nautilus Institute. Policy Forum Online 05-92A:
November 15th, 2005.
Many observers are convinced that the DPRK has been counterfeiting U.S.
currency as matter of state policy. However, it is not fully clear from public sources
whether North Korean state enterprises have continued to produce bogus dollars after
1998. At issue here is whether bills now being circulated are new or solely from
stashes of earlier production runs. There appears to be a reasonable case that North
Korea has continued to counterfeit U.S. currency since 1998. Also, not clear or
publically announced, is the extent to which Pyongyang may have counterfeited —
or may be counterfeiting — currencies other than the dollar.32
As North Korea is a secretive and closed society, activity taking place within the
country, such as production of bogus foreign currencies — to the extent that such
activities exist — may be difficult to demonstrate publically without compromising
fragile intelligence sources and methods. In contrast, distribution of counterfeit U.S.
currency is likely to take place in countries where the money can purchase items of
value, i.e., more open and economically successful societies.33 Numerous arrests
outside the United States and recent indictments clearly involve individuals with
links to the government of North Korea or its state-run enterprises.34 This being the
case, it is difficult to conclude that the government of North Korea has not been
involved — at least until very recently — in distributing bogus U.S. currency.
For the United States the North Korean counterfeiting of U.S. currency
combined with secondary effects has a direct bearing on U.S. interests.
Counterfeiting of one nation’s currency by another generally is considered to be an
act of economic warfare — a direct attack on the U.S. financial system.35 There is
a large difference between criminal counterfeiting by private parties and that done or
sanctioned by a nation. The counterfeiting, itself, might undermine confidence in
the U.S. dollar and, if done extensively enough, potentially damage the U.S.
economy. If the extent of counterfeiting were in the range of $15 million to $25
million per year, however, this would represent a relatively small amount compared
with the total U.S. supply of currency or the amount circulating abroad. As of
36 The Federal Reserve Board. Currency and Coin Services. On Internet at
37 The Federal Reserve Board. Currency in Circulation: Value. On Internet at
38 The Department of the Treasury. Budget in Brief FY2007. P. 87.
39 U.S. General Accountability Office. Testimony. Counterfeit U.S. Currency Abroad:
Observations on Counterfeiting and U.S. Deterrence Efforts. February 27, 1996
February 2006, currency in circulation — that is, U.S. coins and paper currency in the
hands of the public — totaled about $780 billion. Since 1994, the value of currency
in circulation has risen at the rate of 6.5% per year, mostly stemming from foreign
demand. The U.S. Federal Reserve estimates that between one-half and two-thirds
of the value of currency in circulation is held outside the United States.36 In the
United States, most domestic transactions (by value) are done either electronically
or by checks, not cash. As of December 2004, 72% of the value of currency in
circulation consisted of $100 notes, the denomination allegedly counterfeited by the
Counterfeiting also can reduce the confidence by foreigners in the dollar. The
dollar has become the predominant medium of exchange in international transactions.
Such degraded confidence in the dollar usually can be manifested either by a
surcharge on certain denominations when converting dollars to foreign exchange or
in certain denominations of the dollar not being accepted at all. Currently, this
affects Americans and other holders of dollar currency who rely on cash for
transactions rather than credit cards, checks, or bank transfers. If the counterfeiting
were to become extensive enough, however, it might depress the overall exchange
value of the dollar.
Even though the suspected amount of counterfeiting by the DPRK is relatively
small when compared with all U.S. currency in circulation, its importance to
Pyongyang and the ruling communist party could be significant. It apparently helps
fund travel abroad, meet “slush fund” purchases of foreign goods, and subsidize the
lifestyles of the privileged class in Pyongyang.
Even though the macroeconomic effect of a counterfeiting operation generating
around $15 million to $25 million per year is minor, counterfeiting, itself, is a
violation of U.S. law. The Treasury, including the Secret Service, and the Federal
Reserve have primary responsibilities for addressing the counterfeiting of U.S.
currency. The Federal Reserve’s role is to distribute and ensure the physical
integrity, including the authenticity, of U.S. currency. The Secretary of the Treasury
is responsible for issuing and protecting U.S. currency. The Bureau of Engraving and
Printing produces the currency. It has announced that one of its priorities for FY2006
and FY2007 is to redesign the $100 note.38 The Secret Service conducts
investigations of counterfeiting activities, provides counterfeit-detection training, and
is responsible for anticounterfeiting efforts abroad.39
40 The Department of the Treasury. Treasury Designates Banco Delta Asia as Primary
Money Laundering Concern under USA Patriot Act. Press Release JS-2720. September 15,
41 See, for example Case 1:05-cr-00185, Filed May 19, 2005, in the U.S. District Court for
the District of Columbia. United States of America v. Sean Garland, et al.
42 Fairclough, Gordon. “Politics & Economics: Banks Cut Ties to North Korea — U.S.
Threat Toward One Lender Has Surprisingly Big Ripple Effect.” The Wall Street Journal,
February 14, 2006. P. A6.
43 James A. Kelly. An Overview of U.S.-East Asia Policy, Testimony before the House
So far, the United States had taken a two-pronged (but overlapping) approach
toward North Korea’s alleged counterfeiting activities: law enforcement and
political/security pressures. The law-enforcement prong involves prosecuting or
sanctioning individuals and/or institutions involved in the distribution of the bogus
currency. The action taken against the Banco Delta Asia in Macau for suspected
money laundering was done under Section 311 of the Patriot Act. In the action,
Treasury stated that the bank was a “primary money laundering concern” because,
among other findings, sources indicated that “senior officials in Banco Delta Asia are
working with DPRK officials to accept large deposits of cash, including counterfeit
U.S. currency, and agreeing to place that currency into circulation.”40 The Treasury
has been careful to define this action as a law-enforcement measure, not a sanction.
U.S. prosecutors also have entered indictments in U.S. courts against persons charged
with conspiracy to commit counterfeit acts outside the United States or to make, deal,
and possess counterfeit U.S. currency with the intent to defraud.41
The U.S. action against Banco Delta Asia caused an avalanche of responses both
in financial and political circles. It caused such a run on accounts at the bank that the
government of Macau had to take over operations and place a temporary halt on
withdrawals. The financial effects have been larger than expected. Not only has it
deprived major DPRK companies of an international financial base and cut into the
secret personal accounts of the Pyongyang leadership, but it appears to have
obstructed some legitimate North Korean trade. DPRK banks and traders reportedly
are having difficulty finding other lenders to conduct their overseas business. Banks
from other nations (such as the United Overseas Bank of Singapore and the Korea
Exchange Bank of South Korea) have moved to sever contacts with North Korea,
fearing that they, too, could face U.S. legal action.42
The political/security prong attempts to stop the alleged counterfeiting activity
by changing the cost-benefit calculus of decision makers in Pyongyang. The strategy
is to increase costs and reduce benefits in order to induce decision makers to halt the
activity. The inducements used are aimed primarily at raising costs and include the
Illicit Activities Initiative, the Proliferation Security Initiative, diplomatic pressures,
as well as possible military threats and other policy related measures.
The Illicit Activities Initiative, coordinated by the U.S. Department of State, is
aimed precisely at North Korea’s alleged counterfeiting and other illicit activities.
It is being developed in cooperation with other nations.43 The Proliferation Security
International Relations Committee, Washington, DC. June 2, 2004.
44 U.S. Department of State. Bureau of Nonproliferation. The Proliferation Security
Initiative (PSI) (Fact Sheet). May 26, 2005. Congressional Research Service report
RS21881, Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), by Sharon Squassoni.
45 Sanger, David. Questions Without Answers: the Korean Conundrum [Review]. The New
York Times, January 19, 2006. Pg. E.9.
46 U.S. Department of State. North Korea-U.S. Statement. Press Statement 2005/T13-29,
September 19, 2005.
47 See, for example: Choe, Sang-Hun. Roh Warns U.S. Over N. Korea. Blunt Speech
Shows Rift Between Allies. International Herald Tribune, January 26, 2006, pg. 1.
48 For details, see CRS Issue Brief IB98045, Korea: U.S.-Korean Relations — Issues for
Congress, by Larry A. Niksch.
Initiative (PSI) is part of the larger counter proliferation effort worldwide and aimed
at more countries and groups than just North Korea — but the DPRK does receive
a particular focus. The PSI activity has received support from more than 60 countries
and more formal participation from 11 countries, particularly Japan, Australia, the
United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. Under the PSI, participating
countries cooperate to prevent transfers of weapons of mass destruction-related items
to or from nation states and non state actors of proliferation concern. It does this
through intelligence sharing, diplomatic efforts, law enforcement, and interdiction.44
Policymakers reportedly are divided on the ultimate goal of squeezing North
Korea on its alleged illicit activities. A group of policymakers (sometimes referred
to as the “hawks”) favoring regime change seeks ultimately to induce a crisis within
the DPRK that would lead to the downfall of Kim Jong-il. One way to achieve this
is to cut off the money the DPRK generates from counterfeiting, selling illicit drugs,
and exporting missiles. A second group of policymakers more in favor of
engagement, seeks to resolve the North Korean problem mainly by negotiations. Its
goal is to change the “bad behavior” of the DPRK by bringing the country into the
circle of peaceful nations and inducing it to act in accord with international
standards.45 Each group backs initiatives to curb Pyongyang’s alleged counterfeiting,
but each sees the measures in a different light.
Some observers surmise that the financial action against Banco Delta Asia
announced on September 15, 2005, fell too close to the September 19 joint agreement
by the DPRK, the United States, and other participants in the six-party talks to be a
coincidence. At the end of this fourth round of talks, the DPRK signed an agreement
that set out a “visionary view of the end point of the process of the denuclearization
of the Korean Peninsula.”46 These observers opine that the action was backed by socalled
“hawks” in the Bush Administration to scuttle progress being made on the
diplomatic front. The United States had known about the counterfeiting and money
laundering activities for years. Why wait, they say, until the middle of a round of the
six-party talks to take action?47 Pyongyang appears to be using the Banco Delta Asia
action as a pretext to stay away from further talks.48 Other observers state, however,
that law enforcement efforts have a timetable of their own and that the Banco Delta
49 Ambassador Lee Tae-sik’s Speech Given at the St. Regis Hotel (Washington, DC). The
Korea-US Alliance - A Partnership for the Future, February 7, 2006. Korea Economic
50 ROK Editorial Says ROK-US ‘Discord’ Over DPRK Counterfeiting ‘Worrisome.” Dong-
A Ilbo, in Korean, January 25, 2006, p. 31. Translation by the U.S. Embassy in Seoul.
Provided by Open Source Center.
51 Hayes Says Counterfeiting Issue Sidetracks Nuclear Negotiations. Nautilus Weekly,
February 27 - March 3, 2006 . Quote by Nautilus Institute Executive Director Peter Hayes
speaking on Chicago Public Radio’s Worldview Program.
52 Reuters. Crackdown on North Korea Strains US-South Ties. January 28, 2006.
53 U.S. Department of the Treasury. Treasury Officials Brief North Koreans on Actions to
Stem DPRK Illicit Financial Activity. Press Release JS-4099, March 7, 2006. “N. Korea
Agrees to Discuss Counterfeit Issue with U.S.” The Chosun Ilbo. (Digital edition) February
Asia action occurred after a three-year investigation when the evidence gathering and
other preparations were complete.
The position of the United States is that counterfeiting is an illegal activity that
cannot be allowed to continue. This is a separate issue from the six-party talks. The
South Korean government also has taken a firm position on this. It has clearly
communicated to North Korea that such illicit activities are not acceptable and that
Pyongyang should unequivocally turn away from such illicit behavior once and for
all. South Korea also thinks the Banco Delta Asia issue and the nuclear negotiations
should not be linked and that North Korea should return to the six-party talks.49
Seoul reportedly has tried in vain to reach a compromise with the United States to
consider Pyongyang’s counterfeiting activities illegal conduct by individual North
Korean firms and not by the government of the DPRK.50 One observer stated that the
bigger question being asked by China and South Korea is why is the United States
chasing after North Korea’s “loose change” when the country is making plutonium,
the real currency of state power?51
Although South Korea has reluctantly supported the U.S. position on the
counterfeiting issue, the country has different interests. While Washington is using
both law enforcement and political means to place financial pressure on Pyongyang,
Seoul is looking for some compromise. The basic interests of the Bush
Administration lie in stopping the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction,
fighting terrorism, and protecting U.S. currency. South Korea, under President Roh
Moo-hyun, has placed priority on attaining regional peace, regional prosperity,
engagement, and eventual long-term unification with the DPRK.52
On March 7, 2006, North Korea’s Li Gun (head of the North America division
of North Korea’s Foreign Ministry) met with Assistant U.S. Treasury Secretary
Daniel Glaser at the United Nations in New York as part of a back channel for
communicating with each other.53 The U.S. side spent about 20 minutes explaining
its actions against Banco Delta Asia and what it expected from the DPRK. The
DPRK reportedly suggested several actions to resolve the issue and for it to return
to the six-party talks (including the lifting of the financial sanctions on Banco Delta
54 Kessler, Glenn. N. Korea Sets Terms for Return to Nuclear Talks . The Washington Post,
March 9, 2006. P. A16. DPRK Reportedly Proposed ‘Method’ to Resolve Financial
Dispute, Waits for US Response. Open Source Center report of Yonhap news article: N.
Korea Vows Not To Join Nuclear Talks Unless U.S. Sanctions Are Lifted, March 8, 2006.
Center-Left ROK Daily Carries Exclusive Interview With DPRK Delegate to New York
Meeting. Open Source Center report of article in Seoul Hankyoreh (Internet version) in
Korean. March 8, 2006.
55 U.S. Rejected N. Korean Financial Proposal-Kyodo. Reuters News. March 15, 2006.
56 Herskovitz, Jon and Jack Kim. U.S. Says S. Korea Fake Notes Made in North. Reuters
News, February 22, 2006.
57 Chinese Banks Cut Transactions with North Korea-related Firms (From Kyodo News
Service). BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific. March 13, 2006.
58 ROK Daily Cites Diplomatic Source: PRC Confirms DPRK Money-Laundering in Macau
Open Source Center report of article by Chosun Ilbo (WWW-Text in English), January 11,
2006. [Chosun Ilbo headline: “China Finds N.Korea Guilty of Money Laundering”]
59 Fifield, Anna. “North Korea Is ‘Looking to Beat’ US Financial Sanctions.” Financial
Times, March 13, 2006. P. 1.
60 Treasury Issues Advisory on North Korean Banking. Bulletin News Network, the White
House Bulletin, March 16, 2006.
Asia, forming a joint U.S.-North Korean task force to examine the counterfeiting
concerns, giving North Korea access to the U.S. banking system, and providing North
Korea with technical help on identifying counterfeit bills).54 The United States
reportedly has rejected these North Korean suggestions.55 Separately, the U.S.
ambassador in Seoul indicated that Washington wants Pyongyang to prove that tools
used to counterfeit U.S. currency had been destroyed as evidence that North Korea
had abandoned such illegal activities.56
Since Portugal has returned Macao to China, Beijing now has supervisory
responsibility over Banco Delta Asia. China has been attempting to modernize its
banking system, and for one of its banks to be accused of money laundering clearly
does Beijing no good. This places pressure on China to ensure that Banco Delta Asia
and other banks are clean. Immediately after the Banco Delta action, major Chinese
banks dealing with foreign exchange reportedly refrained from transactions with
North Korean-related firms.57 China conducted a three-month investigation of the
accusations against Banco Delta Asia that, according to South Korean diplomatic
sources, confirmed the suspicions. Based on the findings, China reportedly is trying
to convince North Korea that it needs to take steps in the matter.58
North Koreans also are reportedly attempting to circumvent the financial
measures, but they have declined to disclose how they are doing it.59 Traditionally,
North Koreans have used Chinese banks for many of their international transactions,
and some surmise that Kim Jong-il’s trip to southern China in January 2006 may
have included an attempt to move some North Korean accounts to a financial
institution there. The U.S. Treasury has said that some reports suggest that North
Korean agencies have been transferring assets to banks in China.60 Others note that
Austrian banks have not refrained from making transactions with North Korea.
61 Major Chinese Banks Refrain From Dealing with N. Korean Firms. Kyodo News. March
62 Japan to raise North Korea’s alleged laundering, drug trafficking in talks (From Kyodo
News Service), BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific, February 1, 2006. P. 1.
63 For legislation, see; CRS Issue Brief IB98045, Korea: U.S.-Korean Relations — Issues
for Congress, by Larry A. Niksch.
64 U.S. asks NK to Join Int’l Group on Money Laundering. Yonhap English News. March
65 Brinkley, Joel. U.S. Squeezes North Korea’s Money Flow. The New York Times, March
10, 2006. P. 12.
Financial transactions with North Korea apparently still can be done through Austria
Japan also seeks to defuse tensions with the DPRK, but Japan has cooperated
with the United States in both the Proliferation Security and Illicit Activities
Initiatives. In talks in February 2006 on normalization of relations with Pyongyang,
Japan announced that it intended to take up North Korea’s illicit activities, including
counterfeiting, in order to strengthen policy coordination with the United States and
the European Union.62
Congress will likely continue its interest in this topic including oversight of
Bush Administration actions, holding hearings to clarify U.S. policy, or using the
congressional pulpit to send messages to North Korea.63 Congress may explore
possible criminal charges against Kim Jong-il in a manner similar to those against
Manuel Noriega, the former leader of Panama, for drug trafficking. Other policy
levers using human rights or other issues also could be employed. The United States
has suggested to the DPRK that it join the Asia-Pacific Group on Money Laundering
(APG), a 30 member group (including the United States, Japan, and South Korea)
launched in 1997 as a sub-organization of the Organization of Economic Cooperation
and Development. It is aimed at preventing illegal financial activities in the
Asia-Pacific region and would subsequently require the disclosure of all of the
DPRK’s illicit financial activities.64 North Korea experts believe, however, that it
will not be easy for the North to join the 30 member group.
The current strategy of the Bush Administration reportedly is to pressure North
Korea but continue the diplomatic process. The fundamental issue is whether the
United States should place its policy bet on the success of the six-party talks with
various economic and security inducements to achieve the ultimate goals of
dismantling the DPRK’s nuclear weapon program or whether it should continue to
administer economic and other pressures to induce Pyongyang to give up its nuclear
ambitions and use the six-party talks as the vehicle to accept a possible North Korea
Since, the effect of the Banco Delta Asia action has Pyongyang scrambling, a
question is whether the United States could ease its financial pressure on North
Korea enough for the six-party talks to go forward or whether it should tighten the
financial squeeze more — even at the risk of raising the ire of China and South
Korea. Neither of these countries thinks an economic collapse or regime change in
North Korea is likely to result from economic sanctions, and neither desires to deal
with the economic and political effects that would follow should such a collapse
occur. Yet to be determined, is the extent to which such broader strategic
considerations should perhaps govern the ultimate, detailed response to the problem
of North Korean counterfeiting of U.S. currency and other crime-for-profit-activity.
Counterfeiting Cases Point to North Korea
Pyongyang is accused of being behind a growing effort to print and move rafts of U.S. $100 bills.
By Josh Meyer and Barbara Demick, Times Staff Writers
WASHINGTON — The counterfeiting operation began a quarter of a century ago, he recalled, at a government mint built into a mountain in the North Korean capital.
Using equipment from Japan, paper from Hong Kong and ink from France, a team of experts was ordered to make fake U.S. $100 bills, said a former North Korean chemist who said his job was to draw the design.
"The main motive was to make money, but the secondary motive was inspired by anti-Americanism," said the chemist, now 56 and living in South Korea.
Before long, sheets with 30 bills each were rolling off the printing presses. By 1989, millions of dollars' worth of high-quality fakes were showing up around the world. U.S. investigators dubbed them "supernotes" because they were virtually indistinguishable from American currency. The flow of forged bills has continued ever since, U.S. officials say, despite a redesign intended to make the cash harder to replicate.
For 15 years, U.S. officials suspected that the North Korean leadership was behind the counterfeiting, but they revealed almost nothing about their investigations into the bogus bills or their efforts to stop them. Now, however, federal authorities are pursuing at least four criminal cases and one civil enforcement action involving supernotes.
U.S. authorities have unsealed hundreds of pages of documents in support of the cases in recent months, including an indictment that directly accuses North Korea of making the counterfeit bills, the first time the U.S. has made such an allegation in a criminal case.
The documents paint a portrait of an extensive criminal network involving North Korean diplomats and officials, Chinese gangsters and other organized crime syndicates, prominent Asian banks, Irish guerrillas and an alleged ex-KGB agent.
The criminal cases and U.S. Treasury enforcement action are part of a concerted campaign to deprive North Korea of as much as $500 million a year from counterfeiting currency and other criminal activities, senior U.S. law enforcement and intelligence officials say.
The officials say criminal syndicates in South America, Eastern Europe and elsewhere have also churned out large sums of fake U.S. cash. But North Korea's is the only government believed to do so, despite international pressure and laws that characterize such activity as an economic casus belli, or act of war, they say.
"It is simply unacceptable for a member of the international community to engage in this type of irresponsible conduct as a matter of state policy, and [North Korea] needs to cease its criminal financial activities," Daniel Glaser, deputy assistant Treasury secretary for terrorist financing and financial crimes, said in an interview. "Until then, the United States will take the necessary actions to protect the U.S. and international financial systems from this type of misconduct."
In the fall, the U.S. unsealed an indictment against the head of an Irish Republican Army splinter group alleging that "quantities of the supernote were manufactured in, and under auspices of the government of, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea," as North Korea is formally known. North Korea's government in Pyongyang strenuously denied wrongdoing.
A report by North Korea's official news service called the charges "a clumsy and base political farce" by a Bush administration intent on toppling the communist government.
David L. Asher, an administration point man on North Korean issues until this summer, said there was overwhelming evidence that Pyongyang had become a brazen "criminal state" reliant on illicit activity, in part to finance its nuclear weapons program.
"This is state-sponsored counterfeiting. I don't know of any other case like this except the Nazis, and they were doing it in a state of war," said Asher, who headed the administration's North Korea Working Group and was the State Department's senior advisor for East Asian and Pacific affairs.
The administration, he said, has made a strategic decision to press the issue, even if doing so affects delicate six-nation talks aimed at getting North Korea to give up its nuclear arms.
"The administration made a determination early on that irrespective of what happened in diplomacy, this should not be tolerated," Asher said.
U.S. authorities say the increasingly high-profile campaign against the counterfeiting is proceeding amid information that North Korea is minting more American currency than ever before and smuggling it and other contraband, such as weapons and knockoff pharmaceuticals, directly into the United States. A number of U.S. officials who are knowledgeable about the campaign spoke on condition of anonymity because of the issue's political sensitivity.
U.S. authorities fear that the communist state has been able to step up its illicit activities by forging more alliances with transnational organized crime syndicates.
Those alliances have made Pyongyang's suspected nuclear arsenal and other weapons more vulnerable to theft by rogue elements of the North Korean government and sale to nuclear traffickers or terrorists, the U.S. officials said. They worry that the same pipelines used to smuggle fake currency into the United States could be used to traffic in weapons of mass destruction.
An unclassified version of a March report to U.S. lawmakers by the independent research arm of Congress warned that North Korea's increasing reliance on criminal networks meant it may not be able to curtail its illegal activities even if it wanted to.
"Korean crime-for-profit activity," analyst Raphael Perl of the Congressional Research Service wrote, "may become a 'runaway train,' gaining momentum, but out of control."
Extending the Network
One of the first places authorities picked up the supernotes' trail was Ireland, more than 5,000 miles away from North Korea. By the early 1990s, so many supernotes were circulating there that Irish banks stopped exchanging American $100 bills.
The Secret Service soon homed in on Sean Garland, whose exploits with the Irish Republican Army years earlier had made him a local hero.
Garland was chief of staff of the Official Irish Republican Army, or Old IRA, after it split with other IRA factions in 1969 and became the most left-leaning. He also heads its political wing, the Irish Workers' Party, in Northern Ireland. In that capacity, Garland traveled extensively to see Socialist and Communist party leaders in the Soviet bloc and, authorities contend, North Korea.
According to Garland's indictment in federal court in Washington this year, which was unsealed this fall, his discussions with North Korean operatives eventually turned from a shared rejection of capitalism to a scheme for him to buy bogus $100 bills, perhaps to destabilize the U.S. dollar by flooding the market with fakes.
The former North Korean chemist, who spoke anonymously for fear of reprisal, said that over the years, people from China, Hong Kong, Japan and other countries helped distribute the bills. "There was a lot of cooperation with Ireland," he said.
In the indictment and in interviews, U.S. authorities said Garland ultimately teamed up with Old IRA members, street crooks and an alleged former member of the KGB, the Soviet intelligence service. They said the men traveled widely to circulate the bills and sell them to customers who would buy suitcases full at wholesale prices.
The indictment accuses Garland and six other men of buying, selling and circulating fake U.S. $100 bills during the 1990s. Authorities say they passed up to $28 million worth of bogus currency.
From 1997 to 2000, the group bought, sold and circulated the counterfeit notes in Russia, Belarus, Poland, Denmark, the Czech Republic and Germany, the indictment says. It alleges, in detail, that couriers made frequent ferry trips to Ireland loaded down with real cash to pay Garland for the counterfeits.
Authorities said Garland did much of his business with North Korean suppliers at Pyongyang's embassies in Moscow and, later, Minsk, Belarus, using his status as a Workers' Party official as cover.
Things began to unravel in 1999, when Garland's group allegedly went ahead with a deal to sell $1 million in supernotes to a pair of undercover agents posing as wholesalers.
Authorities in Britain described the counterfeit ring as the largest of its kind in their country's history. But Garland wasn't arrested or charged until British authorities, acting on a U.S. warrant, took the 71-year-old into custody Oct. 7 in a hotel in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
U.S. Takes Action
The U.S. quickly moved to extradite Garland. But when he was released for medical treatment, he fled to Ireland, which has no extradition treaty with the U.S.
In a recent statement, Garland insisted that the U.S. charges were baseless and politically motivated. He vowed in an Internet posting to surrender for trial if it were by a jury in Ireland.
No North Korean citizens or front organizations are charged or even identified in the Garland indictment. U.S. authorities would not say whether any of the 10 unnamed and unindicted co-conspirators listed in the document were from North Korea.
Channing Phillips, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Washington, would not comment on why authorities waited until this year to obtain a grand jury indictment, which alleges criminal acts only through mid-2000. He also would not say whether other suspects from North Korea or elsewhere had been identified or charged under seal.
"I can only say that the case is continuing," Phillips said.
The chemist, though, said the counterfeit bills were routinely used by North Korean officials.
"Any North Korean official who goes abroad has to change a big note and bring back small, real currency," he said. "If you come back with real money, you get medals."
When he decided to flee North Korea in 2000, he crossed into China with thousands of dollars in counterfeit notes, he said. When Chinese police caught him without official papers, they kept $4,000 of the fake cash and let him go.
"Thanks to that money," he said, "my translator and I were released."
Besides the Garland case, U.S. officials say three criminal cases the Justice Department is pursuing offer evidence that North Korea is intensifying its efforts to churn out fake U.S. money and conspire with organized crime to smuggle the bills and counterfeit drugs and other products into the United States.
None of those cases explicitly mentions North Korea, but they refer to a foreign country that several U.S. sources say is North Korea.
One case involves supernotes, drug trafficking and three suspected members of a Chinese crime syndicate who were arrested in the Mariana Islands last year.
According to federal court documents and interviews, the Justice Department's central money-laundering section continues to present evidence in the case to a federal grand jury.
In the two other cases, dubbed Operation Smoking Dragon and Operation Royal Charm, at least 87 people have been arrested or indicted in New Jersey and California on charges of smuggling or conspiring to smuggle at least $6 million in counterfeit cash, knockoff Viagra, brand-name cigarettes and weapons into the United States from "Country A" and "Country B."
Several U.S. officials said those countries were North Korea and China and that the money was printed by the North Korean government.
One of the alleged ringleaders, Co Khanh Tang, told undercover agents in April that he was expecting an especially lucrative product from suppliers in China: "new and better samples" of counterfeit U.S. currency, the indictment against him says.
Stuart Levey, a top Treasury Department official, said North Korea recently began churning out improved copies of U.S. bills.
In October, Levey headed a Treasury delegation to Beijing, Macao and Hong Kong, where he pressed government officials and banking executives for more help in cracking down on North Korean counterfeiters and banks that helped them.
Just before the trip, the Treasury Department designated an Asian financial institution, Macao-based Banco Delta Asia SARL, as a "primary money-laundering concern" under the Patriot Act.
U.S. authorities allege that the bank was a longtime pawn of North Korean front companies, which used it to conduct "illegal activities, including distributing counterfeit currency and smuggling counterfeit tobacco products" and aid North Korean drug-trafficking efforts.
The bank denied any intentional wrongdoing and later cut off several dozen clients — including 40 North Korean people and businesses — replaced several managers and allowed a panel named by Macao's government to administer its operations.
The U.S. sanctions on the bank, as well as those against several North Korean companies accused of helping proliferate weapons of mass destruction, have infuriated North Korea.
The nation is threatening to boycott disarmament talks unless the United States reverses course.
The Smoking Dragon case has raised concerns beyond counterfeiting.
In court documents, prosecutors allege that Tang and another suspect offered undercover FBI agents a catalog of weapons available for purchase from the arsenals of at least two foreign countries, believed to be North Korea and China.
The agents ordered dozens of AK-47 assault rifles and in July 2004 began negotiating a deal for surface-to-air missiles "manufactured by communist countries," an indictment said.
The indictment added that the agents were told the weapons' high prices were "necessitated by the need to bribe officials" of at least one of the foreign governments.
Asher, the former State Department official, asserted in a November speech at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington that absent a worldwide crackdown on North Korean counterfeiting and the government's other illicit activities, the country would continue to rely on criminal profits to maintain its political isolation and its nuclear program and to withstand pressure to reform.
"Given that periodic exposure of illegal dealings by North Korean officials overseas in the past has not resulted in serious or lasting consequences," Asher said, "Pyongyang may believe that an open door for global criminality exists."
Meyer reported from Washington and Demick from Seoul.
December 12, 2005
What Are Supernotes?
The best fake money that money can buy.
By Daniel Engber
Posted Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2005, at 7:12 PM ET
Undercover agents lured members of a smuggling ring to a bogus wedding in New Jersey last weekend; many of the alleged conspirators were arrested en route. The FBI claims the international ring has trafficked weapons, drugs, fake cigarettes, and more than $5 million in "Supernotes" to North America. What are Supernotes?
Counterfeit $100 bills of very high quality. Government agents say that most funny money falls into three categories. The first two are relatively easy to spot. Traditional fakes come from a process called offset lithography that produces phony dollars without the "raised ink" feel of genuine bills. Digital forgeries, made with high-tech scanners and printers, also lack the texture of the real thing. Supernotes are more deceptive. They're printed on cotton-fiber paper using the same expensive "intaglio" printing presses used by the U.S. government. An intaglio press creates tiny ridges on a piece of paper by forcing it into the ink-filled grooves of an engraved plate at very high pressure. That's what gives dollars—and Supernotes—their characteristic feel.
Government agents first discovered Supernotes in 1990. A very experienced overseas cash handler identified one as a forgery by the feel of the paper, even thought it was printed on an intaglio press. The fake was as good as any the Secret Service had ever seen—it even contained the right proportion of embedded red and blue fibers that the Treasury Department uses as a security feature. The first Supernote became known as Parent Note (PN) 14342. The term "Supernote"—also occasionally seen as "Superdollar" or "Superbill"—originated outside of the Secret Service. It refers to all high-quality counterfeits that can be linked back to PN-14342 with forensic evidence. (The Secret Service won't reveal how they link modern-day counterfeits to PN-14342.)
Supernote production requires uncommon equipment and skilled engineers. At first, investigators thought they originated in Lebanon. Another theory from the 1990s held that Iran produced them on equipment purchased by the Shah two decades earlier and then shipped the bills to Lebanon via Syria. The real source of the bills has not been found, but a member of the Congressional Research Service reported that the government of North Korea produces millions of dollars a year with intaglio presses. In the meantime, the government ordered an extensive redesign of U.S. currency in 1996. (Supernote versions of the new $100 bills have been discovered.)
The Treasury Department estimates that 60 percent of U.S. currency is held overseas, where Supernotes seem to be in wider circulation. In 1998, Russia's central bank estimated that $4 billion in Supernotes were floating around the country. And this past March, Supernotes turned up in Peru. Still, government statistics suggest that Supernotes make up only a small percentage of the counterfeit bills they find.
The Secret Service says the high-quality notes have detectable flaws and that information about those flaws has been shared with international banks. (They won't discuss the details in public.) If you want to check your money supply, you can find companies that sell devices to suss out the high-tech fakes.
Explainer thanks Michael Drewniak of the United States Attorney's Office in New Jersey and Eric Zahren of the United States Secret Service.
Pretoria Unguarded: Terrorists take refuge in South Africa.
by Jonathan Schanzer
05/28/2007, Volume 012, Issue 35
In early May, South Africa's intelligence minister, Ronnie Kasrils, invited Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas member and prime minister of the Palestinian National Authority, to lead a delegation to South Africa. For good measure, Kasrils also demanded that the international community lift the aid embargo imposed against Hamas since its electoral victory in January 2006. Though sanctions were only to be lifted if Hamas recognized Israel, Kasrils insisted that Haniyeh had gone "a long way to meeting those requirements as we understand them."
This embrace of Hamas should come as no surprise. As long ago as June 2003, South Africa's deputy minister of foreign affairs, Aziz Pahad, met with representatives of Hezbollah. After the meeting, the ministry announced that "clear distinctions" must be made "between terrorism and legitimate struggle for liberation."
Overtures to Hamas and Hezbollah are indicative of Pretoria's utter indifference to the threat of radical Islamic ideologies and violence. The worst consequence of this blindness may be the creation of a safe haven for terrorists in South Africa itself.
According to one reported U.S. intelligence estimate, al Qaeda leaders are operating throughout South Africa. Other reports indicate that terrorists are exploiting the country's banking system, and that South African passports are finding their way to al Qaeda operatives worldwide.
It is only natural, then, that South African jihadists are popping up in terrorist hotspots. In July 2004, Pakistani police arrested two South Africans--Feroz Ibrahim and Zubair Ismail--along with Khalfan Ghailani, who was on the FBI's most wanted list for his role in the 1998 embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. Subsequent investigations have revealed that the pair was plotting to attack the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, the parliament complex in Pretoria, and several other high-profile targets in South Africa.
Another South African, Haroon Aswat, was tied to the July 7, 2005, London mass transit bombings. After the attacks, Zambian officials detained Aswat, who reportedly had exchanged a spate of phone calls with each of the four suicide bombers before they carried out their deadly attacks. Further research reveals that in the 1990s, Aswat was an assistant to London-based Abu Hamza al-Masri, a one-eyed, one-handed terrorist ideologue tied to al Qaeda groups in Yemen and Algeria. Aswat worked with al-Masri at the radical Finsbury Park Mosque, where a number of other terrorists received their training, including shoe bomber Richard Reid.
More recently, in January 2007, the U.S. Treasury named two South African cousins--Junaid Dockrat and Farhad Dockrat--Specially Designated Global Terrorists for their support to al Qaeda and the Taliban. Farhad, who had been detained in Gambia for suspected terrorist activity in 2005, was identified as having provided nearly $63,000 to al-Akhtar Trust, a charity that was designated in 2003 for providing support to al Qaeda. Junaid was responsible for raising $120,000 for Hazma Rabia, the al Qaeda operations chief killed in Pakistan by the U.S. military in 2005.
After freezing the Dokrats out of the U.S. financial system, Treasury submitted their names to the Sanctions Committee on al Qaeda and the Taliban for designation by the United Nations Security Council. To the chagrin of Washington, rather than pursuing these terrorists, South Africa's foreign affairs minister, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, used his country's new seat on the Security Council to put a hold on the U.N. designations. Thus, while American sanctions might freeze any of the Dockrats' assets that reach U.S. banks (the likelihood of that is now extremely low), the terrorist-funding cousins continue to conduct business in South Africa--and everywhere else in the world except America--with impunity, all the while complaining about how the United States has arbitrarily accused them of funding terrorism.
Pretoria appears to have cast its lot with the two terror suspects, rather than the United States. Aziz Pahad voiced concerns about the designation, claiming that the rights of South Africans need to be defended. Pahad and other officials are asking for more information, which is odd, considering a South African Sunday Times report that discussions about the Dockrats has been ongoing between Washington and Pretoria for almost a year.
One cannot say that South Africa is hamstrung by a sizable or influential Muslim population--as is, for instance, France. Whereas some 10 percent of the French population are estimated to be adherents to the Islamic faith, with increasing sway over the Quay d'Orsay (although the election of Nicolas Sarkozy may change this), the Muslim population in South Africa is only about 600,000 out of a population of 44 million, or 1.5 percent.
Even South African Muslim leaders admit there is a problem in their community. As activist Naeem Jeenah writes on his website, "We do have people in our community who are sympathetic to al Qaeda and the Taliban; we do have people in our community who hold the same ideologies as those groups."
Indeed, the problem is more systemic. Pretoria and Washington simply do not see eye to eye on virtually any of the critical international security challenges we face today. They have clashed over Iranian nukes (South Africa maintains friendly ties with Iran), the war on terror (South Africa does not agree with the U.S. definition of terrorism), U.N. reform (South Africa appears to be uninterested), and the Arab-Israeli conflict (Pretoria blames Israel).
Some of these policies can be traced to South Africa's identification with the downtrodden. Its population remembers apartheid, and seeks to redress social injustice. There is a deep distrust of the United States, in light of the fact that the State Department labeled the African National Congress (ANC) a terrorist group until the organization was legalized and became a prominent political party in 1990. The State Department's recent charm offensive through public diplomacy has done little to erase that chapter in U.S. history--even though the ANC was unquestionably involved in terrorist acts and had long-standing ties to the terrorist Palestine Liberation Organization, and Nelson Mandela embraced both Yasser Arafat and Muammar Qaddafi as loyal friends and supporters of the ANC.
Given this history, there is a deep distrust of America's Middle East policy, particularly its unwavering support for Israel. When former President Jimmy Carter claims in his latest book that Israel "perpetrates even worse instances of apartness, or apartheid, than we witnessed in South Africa," South Africans sit up and take notice.
South Africa's quest for social justice notwithstanding, a terrorist threat looms inside the country. What has been revealed in the press and in U.S. government actions is likely just the tip of the iceberg. And Pretoria further supports terror by reaching out to murderous groups in the Middle East. As a result, Washington must keep an eye on one more potential source of danger: South Afristan.
Jonathan Schanzer, a former Treasury intelligence analyst, is director of policy for the Jewish Policy Center, and author of Al-Qaeda's Armies: Middle East Affiliate Groups and the Next Generation of Terror.
© Copyright 2007, News Corporation, Weekly Standard, All Rights Reserved.
Crying Wolfowitz . . . while the United Nations bankrolls dictators.
by Claudia Rosett
05/28/2007, Volume 012, Issue 35
For two of Paul Wolfowitz's most prominent critics, Mark Malloch Brown and Ad Melkert, the war over the World Bank presidency could not have come at a better time. Whatever else the ousting of Wolfowitz has achieved, it has done plenty to distract from the North Korea Cash-for-Kim scandal that just four months ago was threatening to engulf the United Nations agency piloted for the past eight years first by Malloch Brown and now largely by Melkert.
That agency is the U.N. Development Program, or UNDP, and especially in light of the U.N. system's sudden interest in ethics, it deserves a lot more attention. Run by Malloch Brown from 1999-2005, the UNDP is now home to Melkert--previously head of the ethics committee at the World Bank--who has worked since early 2006 as its hands-on manager and number two man to the often-traveling administrator, Kemal Dervis.
Despite its generic name, the UNDP is not just any old U.N. agency (or "programme," in U.N. parlance). It is the alpha in the U.N. alphabet soup, the U.N.'s flagship in the developing world. Its administrator is the third-highest-ranking official in the U.N. system, and the UNDP is angling to serve as top boss of all other U.N. agencies in the field. For years, the UNDP has enjoyed an image as the model of a modern, more efficient U.N.--product of the "reforms" and vast expansion of both its budget and braggadocio under Malloch Brown.
The reality is a lot less wholesome. Operating with even less transparency than the opaque U.N. Secretariat, and now channeling more than $5 billion per year worldwide in the name of development (at least $245 million of that contributed by U.S. taxpayers), the UNDP has made a practice of bunking with dictators from Algeria to Zimbabwe. It has done this while maintaining internal oversight controls lax enough to embarrass Enron in some cases. This January, in the Cash-for-Kim scandal, the UNDP got caught playing sugar daddy to North Korea's nuclear extortionist regime of Kim Jong Il. It further emerged that while forking over hard currency to Kim, UNDP officials in Pyongyang had been storing counterfeit U.S. banknotes in their own office safe.
What has not been disclosed until now is that the UNDP in Pyongyang was also busy shepherding and bankrolling "study tours" of the U.K. and Europe for North Korean arms experts, stocking Kim Jong Il's research libraries with specialized publications on global security matters, and dispensing funds on behalf of other U.N. agencies for such ventures as sending North Korean officials to a three-week conference on "statistics" in Iran. This went on even after North Korea's U.N.-denounced missile and nuclear bomb tests last year.
And though the U.N. has treated Cash for Kim as an anomaly (recently suspending UNDP operations in Pyongyang, but nowhere else), the program's odd activities hardly begin and end with North Korea. The UNDP is also supporting such endeavors as an upgrade for the state-owned national airline of Syria, a mullah-approved official youth group in Iran, and a network of women's groups in Burma that were recently accused of shaking down impoverished villagers for forced membership fees. In Zimbabwe, the UNDP is embroiled in unproven allegations that its vehicles have been used for smuggling from a diamond mining venture it has been supporting--which raises the question of why the UNDP is involved in diamond mining at all.
In defense of such dubious activities, plus many more (such as the time it got caught in 2005 bankrolling anti-Israel propaganda in Gaza), the UNDP has issued a stream of denials and prevarications--including the notion that one has to break a few eggs to make an omelette.
Such outrages are the natural result of the UNDP's ever expanding mission to plan every developing economy on the planet. UNDP programs are crammed with new-age U.N. jargon about "capacity building," "national partners," and "millennium development goals." What they're really talking about is old-style, top-down central planning, done by UNDP-ocrats in cahoots with their high-level counterparts in client governments. What the Soviet Union called five-year plans, the UNDP calls "Multi-Year Funding Frameworks."
Especially pernicious are the UNDP policies known as "country ownership" and "national execution." Under these arrangements, which account for the bulk of its projects worldwide, the UNDP turns over resources and on-site responsibility to client governments (charging "cost-recovery" fees in the process). The idea is that the UNDP, by encouraging client governments to design and run their own "development" projects, will persuade the likes of Zimbabwe's dictator, Robert Mugabe, or the Burmese military junta to shape up. Too often, especially in the most corrupt and repressive countries, the result is that the UNDP rolls over, shoveling money and materials into the hands of national officials, taking a cut for its services, and slapping on top a UNDP seal of good housekeeping. The specifics of many of these projects are shrouded from public view under such stock labels as "Energy and Environment," or "Capacity Building for Development Cooperation" (the name of the UNDP project that in January covered the $12,000-plus business class airfare for a North Korean official to attend a UNDP board meeting in New York).
For an outsider, following the more than $5 billion that flows yearly through the UNDP system is like tracking Osama bin Laden through the caves of Tora Bora. Headquartered in New York, across the street from the landmark U.N. complex, the UNDP serves as the U.N.'s main development shop and coordinating network around the globe, employing 7,355 staff plus a host of consultants. The UNDP has offices in 135 countries, programs in 165; and in many capitals its resident representatives have long doubled as emissaries of the U.N. secretary general. (That's why a UNDP mission chief in Ghana was able to help Kojo Annan, son of former Secretary General Kofi Annan, clear a Mercedes duty-free through customs in 1998 under false use of his father's name.) In dispensing funds worldwide--currently $3.7 billion annually for its own projects, and $1.5 billion on behalf of other U.N. agencies--the UNDP handles more than one-quarter of the entire U.N. system's $20 billion annual budget.
To raise money, the UNDP relies not only on "core" donations from member states, but according to its comptroller also operates more than 600 trust funds, some thematic, some country specific, some project specific. None are particularly transparent. There are so-called public-private partnerships, in-kind donations, collaborations and cooperative arrangements with other U.N. outfits, NGOs, and foundations. In effect, the UNDP offers itself as a black box into which donors with almost any aim can contribute money from almost anywhere and have it used under the UNDP label for almost anything they might want to earmark, as long as the UNDP agrees--and apparently it often does. For instance, last year's jaunts abroad for North Korean arms experts were pet projects of the UNDP, the North Korean government, and donors in Sweden and Germany.
Murk pervades this maze. The UNDP does not make its internal audit reports available even to the 36 member states on its own executive board (which mixes democracies such as the United States and Britain with a gang of thugocracies currently including Algeria, China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Guyana, and Belarus, as well as, of course, North Korea). What does seep out is not promising. The U.N.'s largely toothless "external" Board of Auditors, in a report released last year, expressed generic concern at "the increase in project expenditure not audited," and noted that among the nationally executed projects in 2004 and 2005 that were audited, reports for some $1 billion worth of spending were submitted late. As of mid-2006, more than one-quarter of these audit reports had yet to be submitted at all.
The UNDP's country offices have websites on which they post generic lists of "sustainable" goals and programs, but stunningly little is disclosed in the way of project details, and almost nothing about spending. At the UNDP's New York press office, staffers can be pleasant and work long hours, but often appear to have trouble obtaining information themselves. In response to pointed queries, the UNDP provided some documentation for two of the 30 projects underway last year in North Korea--including the "disarmament" project described above--then suddenly found it impossible to lay their hands on any more. The UNDP provides no regular press briefings. This month, the UNDP finally announced a financial "disclosure" policy. It is modeled on Annan's farcically empty measures introduced last year for the U.N. Secretariat, in which there is no requirement to disclose anything to anyone outside the U.N.
Then there's Mark Malloch Brown and the upmarket house he has been renting for years on the suburban New York estate of hedge fund tycoon George Soros--for whom Malloch Brown has now gone to work. Reporters queried Malloch Brown in 2005 about potential conflicts of interest in renting from Soros while running a UNDP that by his own admission was collaborating "extensively" with Soros's network of foundations. Malloch Brown's response was not to provide documentation on what he claimed was an arm's length arrangement. Instead, he denounced reporters for their "bile."
Last year, persistent questioning by Matthew Russell Lee of the Inner City Press finally extracted from the UNDP the information that a book about its own history, commissioned in 2004 by Malloch Brown, had cost the organization $737,000 (including such items as salary and travel money for the author, and purchase of copies from the publisher). The book was a paean to the UNDP, and to Malloch Brown in particular, describing his reforms as a model "of efficiency and effectiveness."
This is the institution and ethos that were at risk of exposure when Cash for Kim hit the headlines. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, in a brief flash of wisdom, promised an independent audit of the entire U.N. system. But within days, a classic U.N. cover-up had begun. Ban scaled back the inquiry to include only U.N. agencies in Pyongyang, and turned over the job to the housebroken U.N. Board of Auditors, who are expected to deliver their overdue report any day now. The auditors did not visit North Korea. They never even asked for visas.
And so, here we all are, four months later, having heard from U.N. officialdom plenty about the pay package of Paul Wolfowitz's com panion at the World Bank, but almost nothing more about the UNDP. At the U.N., they call this development.
Claudia Rosett is a journalist-in-residence at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
© Copyright 2007, News Corporation, Weekly Standard, All Rights Reserved.