Fake North dollars used to cash UN check in ‘95

Joong Ang Daily
Lee Sang-il

North Korean bank allegedly gave counterfeit U.S. $100 notes to a foreigner working for the United Nations Development Program when he cashed a check at a bank in Pyongyang in 1995, a diplomatic source in Washington told the JoongAng Ilbo.

A spokesman for the UN agency confirmed the suspicion, adding that the bills will be handed over to the U.S. Treasury Department for verification.

In 1995, the UNDP’s Pyongyang office issued a check to an Egyptian consultant for his services on a North Korea project.

The consultant claimed that he cashed the check at the Foreign Trade Bank in Pyongyang and that the bank gave him 35 $100 bills.

After returning home, the consultant attempted to exchange the bills for Egyptian currency, but the bills were rejected as fakes, the source said.

The Egyptian sent the bills back to the UNDP office in Pyongyang, and the UN officials confronted the Foreign Trade Bank and asked for real money, the source said. The request was turned down, and the UN agency has been holding the bogus bills for 12 years.

The revelation of the incident highlights charges by the American government that North Korea has been passing so-called “supernotes” ― fake $100 bills ― for many years. Washington’s claim that Banco Delta Asia in Macao was a conduit for the release of the notes was one reason for the freezing of $25 million in North Korean funds in September 2005.

That money is now due to be released as a precondition for progress in the six-party talks. The U.S. has cut the suspect bank’s access to the American financial system.

In an e-mail interview with the JoongAng Ilbo, David Morrison, spokesman for the United Nations Development Program, said the agency is in the process of giving the notes to the Treasury Department. Mr. Morrison said he was not aware of any other incidents.

Mr. Morrison added that the Egyptian consultant has not provided further evidence that the bills were passed by the Pyongyang bank. He also said that UNDP had used Banco Delta Asia to send money to the North to finance projects from January 2000 to December 2002. He said they chose the bank for its convenient financial services.

Asked if North Korea asked the agency to use Banco Delta Asia, Mr. Morrison said it was an independent decision. He said the UN body stopped transactions with the Macao bank when the settlement currency was changed from dollars to euros.

UNDP opened its office in Pyongyang in 1980 and has carried out public hygiene, agricultural, energy and environmental projects.


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