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U.S. says N. Korea counterfeiting

BEIJING – North Korea is financing illicit activities by printing up bogus U.S. $100 bills and passing them abroad to banking centers such as Macau, the former Portuguese colony now under China’s control, a senior U.S. Treasury official charged Friday.

The counterfeit bills are of such good quality that they’ve come to be called “super notes,” said Stuart Levey, the Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

Washington has fingered Pyongyang as counterfeiting American currency for more than a decade, but its accusations have become increasingly specific. Last month, U.S. officials accused Macau’s Banco Delta Asia of a range of offenses, including passing fake American currency for North Korea. The bank denies the charges.

On Oct. 7, authorities in Belfast, Northern Ireland, arrested an Irish nationalist, Sean Garland, after a U.S. indictment said that he and six others helped North Korea move more than $1 million in fake American currency through a number of European countries.

Levey charged that efforts by North Korea to counterfeit U.S. $100 bills finance and underpin a variety of activities, including development of its nuclear weapons program.

“It is sort of an astonishing act to have a government counterfeiting the currency of another. It’s also the case that the quality of this particular counterfeit currency is quite good,” Levey said at a news conference.

North Korea denies that it prints fake American money. In a commentary on its official state news service last week, North Korea decried what it called a “smear campaign” and said it “is nothing but a clumsy and base political farce intended to impair the image” of the isolated Stalinist nation.

Despite publicity over the counterfeit “super notes,” North Korea continues to print the bogus bills, Levey said.

“There’s been a super note that’s been created in North Korea recently, quite recently,” he said, offering no further details. “I don’t want to comment exactly on the evidence.”

Levey declined to say how North Korea obtained the technology to produce high-quality fake U.S. currency or how much it has attempted to pass abroad.