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Almost undetectable $100 fake note found in Seoul, North Korea’s role suspected

The discovery of a counterfeit ‘supernote’, a forgery that is almost impossible to distinguish from real ones, has triggered alarm over North Korea hand.

world Updated: Dec 12, 2017 19:38 IST
Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse
In this handout photo provided by South Korea's KEB Hana Bank, Yi Ho-Joong, who heads the bank’s anti-counterfeit centre, inspects a fake $100 ’supernote’ -- a forgery so fine that it is hard to detect.
In this handout photo provided by South Korea's KEB Hana Bank, Yi Ho-Joong, who heads the bank’s anti-counterfeit centre, inspects a fake $100 ’supernote’ -- a forgery so fine that it is hard to detect. (AFP)
         

A new high-quality counterfeit $100 bill has been found in South Korea, bank officials said on Tuesday, prompting suggestions the sanctions-hit North might have resumed forging “supernotes”.

A team of forgery specialists at KEB Hana Bank have confirmed that a $100 note found at a Seoul branch in November was a fake which was almost impossible to distinguish from real banknotes, they said.

“It was the first of a new kind of supernote ever found in the world,” Yi Ho-Joong, head of the KEB Hana Bank’s anti-counterfeit centre told AFP.

Previous “supernotes” were dated either 2001 or 2003 but the new forgery is dated 2006.

The same methods including raised and dented printing and no-smudge inks that are normally used for real banknotes have been applied to the newly found supernote, he said.

“You need facilities worth some $100 million to produce counterfeit bills of this quality and no crime rings would invest that much to make fake dollars,” he said.

“Only state-level organisations can afford such facilities.” The bank has alerted judicial and intelligence authorities about the discovery, Yi added.

South Korean news media suggested the North might have resumed producing fake banknotes to circumvent tightening international sanctions against its nuclear and missile development.

But Yi said there was no evidence to link the newly found supernote to North Korea -- although Pyongyang has a track record of its diplomats getting caught with high-quality forgeries.

In recent years, North Korea appears to have scaled back what was once a thriving counterfeit operation. The operation, which dates back to the 1970s and was personally overseen by Kim Jong-il, was suspected to have links with international criminal organisations spread over 130 countries.

In 2005, authorities arrested Sean Garland, a senior Irish Republican Army veteran, for laundering North Korean “supernotes”. It was the one of the most high-profile arrests in the US crackdown on counterfeit dollar bills. A few months after Garland’s arrest, US authorities slapped sanctions on a bank in Macau that was suspected of laundering North Korean funds, arrested and indicted suspects in operations codenamed Operation Smoking Dragon and Operation Royal Charm, reported Vice.

Since the crackdown, there have been very few instances of “supernotes” being detected which makes the one found in South Korea cause for alarm.