U.S. Envoy Urges NK to Stop Bill Forgeries


By Jung Sung-ki
Staff Reporter

The United States has ``forensic’’ evidence that the counterfeited U.S. dollars circulated in South Korea last year was from North Korea, U.S. Ambassador to Seoul Alexander Vershbow said Friday.
The top U.S. envoy also urged Pyongyang to take verifiable and immediate actions to stop its alleged production of forged U.S. bills. But he stressed that Washington is committed to peacefully resolving the stalemate over the North’s nuclear weapons program.

``The U.S. has serious concerns about many aspects of North Korean behavior, including its involvement in illicit activities such as counterfeiting and money-laundering,’’ the ambassador said in a forum at a Seoul hotel.

The Korean Council on Reconciliation and Cooperation, a Seoul-based pro-unification civic group, organized the forum.

``We will take necessary measures to protect ourselves and enforce our laws, but this does not in any way reduce our determination to resolve the nuclear issue through the six-party talks,’’ he said.

Vershbow said that U.S. authorities were able to believe the counterfeit $100 notes, dubbed ``supernotes,’’ were from North Korea through information and forensic proof, adding the U.S. plans to share the information with South Korea.

In October last year, the National Police Agency in Seoul rounded up a crime ring that produced fake 280 U.S. bills valued at around 30 million won ($29,000). At that time, police secured some statements from suspects that the ring was operating in Beijing, but failed to identify the home place of the criminals.

The U.S. is currently taking legal proceedings against personnel of Irish Republican Army on charges of counterfeiting, he said, emphasizing that Washington has carried out the investigation into the counterfeiting and check forgery scheme for about 10 years.

The financial row has emerged as the biggest stumbling block to the disarmament talks that include the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan.

In September, the U.S. Treasury Department designated a Macau-based bank closely associated with North Korea as a primary money-laundering concern under its Patriot Act, describing the bank as a ``pawn’’ of Pyongyang's front companies used for distributing counterfeit currency and proliferating weapons of mass destruction.

North Korea argues that the counterfeiting allegations are an invention of the U.S., warning it would stay away from the six-party talks unless the U.S. lifts its sanctions, while the U.S. is firm in its stance that there will be no political bargaining over criminal activities.

Meanwhile, South Korea is taking a cautious approach on the issue. It has asked Washington to provide more compelling evidence about the allegations.

Analysts here raise the possibility that the financial dispute could be prolonged for several years, just like the controversy over whether North Korea has highly-enriched uranium to produce atomic weapons.