CRS report on DPRK counterfeiting

The US Congressional Research Service has updated their report on the DPRK’s alleged counterfeiting operations. You may download the report here.

Here is the summary:

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, although there is some doubt by observers and other governments that the DPRK is capable of creating Supernotes of the quality found. What has been confirmed is that the DPRK has passed off such bills in various countries and that the counterfeit bills circulate both within North Korea and around its border with China. Defectors from North Korea also have provided information on Pyongyang’s counterfeiting operation, although those statements have not been corroborated. Whether the DPRK is responsible for the actual production or not, trafficking in counterfeit has been 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 thought to be of North Korean origin have been detected in circulation, and estimates are that the country has earned from $15 to $25 million per year over several years from counterfeiting. The illegal nature of any counterfeiting activity makes open-source 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 had independently confirmed allegations of DPRK counterfeiting. In June 2009, press reports claimed that the DPRK produced counterfeit U.S. bills even after 2007.

For the United States, the alleged North Korean counterfeiting represents a direct attack on a protected U.S. national asset and may provide a rationale to impose financial sanctions on the DPRK. The earnings from counterfeiting and related activities also could be important to Pyongyang’s finances. Profits from any counterfeiting also may be laundered through banks or other financial institutions.

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 (BDA) bank in Macao (a territory of China) was named as a primary money laundering concern under the Patriot Act. In June 2007, the BDA issue was resolved and the Six-Party Talks resumed. At the time, Pyongyang promised that it would punish the counterfeiters and destroy their equipment. The law enforcement effort has become entwined with diplomatic efforts and pressures to resolve the North Korean nuclear and missile issues. Following North Korea’s second nuclear test and several missile launches in May 2009, the United States reportedly has been considering further financial sanctions on the DPRK based partly on its alleged counterfeiting.

This report as well as many other CRS reports on the DPRK can be found here.


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