A superdollar (also known as a superbill or supernote) is a very high quality counterfeit United States one hundred-dollar bill, alleged by the U.S. Government to have been made by unknown organizations or governments. In 2011 government sources stated that these "counterfeit bills were in worldwide circulation from the late 1980s until at least July 2000" in an extradition court case. Various groups have been suspected of creating such notes, and international opinion on the origin of the notes varies. The U.S. Government believes that most likely most of these notes were produced in North Korea. Over $35 million of $100 bills were produced by British criminals arrested in 2002. Other sources claimed include criminal gangs in Iran, Russia, China or Syria. The name derives from the fact that the quality of the notes exceeds that of the originals.
More $100 bills circulate in Asia, where U.S. currency is often seen as a safer investment than local currency, than in America, and many seizures of supernotes are associated with persons from Korea, Russia, and the Middle East.
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The notes are said to be made with the highest quality of ink printed on a cotton/linen blend, and are designed to recreate the various security features of United States currency, such as the red and blue security fibers, the security thread, and the watermark. The notes are printed using the intaglio printing process.
Experts who have studied supernotes extensively and examined them alongside genuine bills point out that there are many different varieties of supernotes. In 2006 the "family" of fraudulent bills was thought to have 19 members, but since 2006 producers of the supernotes have improved the product, and more varieties exist. Early versions of the fake notes, for example, lacked the bands of magnetic ink printed in distinctive patterns on different denominations of U. S. money; later counterfeits rectify this error. Several of the inconspicuous "mistakes" on the first supernotes were corrected, some several times. On the genuine $100 bill, for example, the left base vertical line of the lamp post near the figure on the reverse of the $100 note is weak. The first supernotes printed this line too distinctly, rendering the counterfeit more authoritatively printed than the original. Later supernotes over-corrected this strong line by removing it altogether. Similarly, the hands of the clock on Independence Hall on the genuine bill extend slightly beyond the inner circle; on the supernotes they stop short of it. On the front of the supernote, in the "N" in "UNITED STATES," a slash can be seen to the right of the diagonal and the right ascender of the letter; there is none on the genuine note. Other differences in vignetting and in the defining lines of the top ornament in Independence Hall have been observed. Klaus Bender and others have speculated that the counterfeiters introduced these differences to be able to distinguish their product from the original, but obviously there is no way to confirm this hypothesis.
Arrests in United States
In two sting operations running from 2002 to 2005, dubbed "Operation Smoking Dragon" and "Operation Royal Charm", United States agents arrested at least 87 people on charges that included smuggling superdollars. About $4.5 million in counterfeit currency was seized, much in $100 bills. No definitive origin for the counterfeit $100 bills was determined.
In 2005, British criminals, Anatasios Arnaouti and four others, were convicted of conspiracy to make counterfeit currency in the United Kingdom. They were arrested in 2002 after an operation that involved the US Secret Service. The counterfeit currency recovered included $3.5 million of $100 bills, which Bank of England experts said were of excellent quality. The police stated that "The potential to undermine the economy of the UK and US was very significant." The printer admitted to making 350,000 $100 bills, $35 million, over 18 months. The gang were using equipment capable of printing £1 million per day, and boasted they were producing $500,000 in fake dollars a day.
The United States based its accusations against North Korea on the accounts of a few North Korean defectors who allegedly described the operation and on South Korean intelligence sources. The testimony of the North Korean defectors is considered by some to be suspect, and one witness has since gone into hiding after charges that he fabricated the story for money. These witnesses claimed that the factory where the notes are printed is located in the city of Pyongsong and is part of Division 39. One defector had taken the notes to experts in the South Korean intelligence agency, who did not believe that they were fakes. The San Francisco Chronicle interviewed a North Korean chemist who described the operation; insisting on anonymity, he spoke about the technical details of the process as well as the distribution method, which he said was through North Korean diplomats and international crime syndicates.
Regardless of the reliability of the North Korean defectors' claims, it has been confirmed that North Korea has passed off such bills in various countries and that the counterfeit bills circulate both within North Korea and around its border with China.
The U.S. Government has theorized that the bills were spread in two ways:
- North Korean diplomats almost always travel through Moscow on their way to other destinations. At the Embassy of North Korea in Moscow they receive dollars for their expenses. According to the claims of one defector, forgeries are intermingled with real dollars in about a 1 to 1 ratio. He said that most of the diplomats themselves do not know that they are being given fakes, and claimed that it is possible to purchase a $100 bill for US$50–70 directly from North Korean agents, and sometimes as low as $10–20 in bulk purchases.
- The alleged chief of staff of the Official Irish Republican Army, Seán Garland, was followed and seen traveling to Moscow and visiting the North Korean embassy along with some ex-KGB officers. Allegedly, Seán Garland then would, with the help of some associate couriers, move this money to the Irish capital Dublin and to Birmingham, England, where the notes would be exchanged for pounds or authentic dollars. His alleged scheme, involving several international crime syndicates and transactions worth millions of dollars, was uncovered after a tip-off. Garland was arrested in Belfast, Northern Ireland but fled south to the Republic of Ireland after being released for medical leave. On 21 December 2011, the Irish High Court dismissed the US application for Garland's extradition, as the alleged offence took place in Ireland and was therefore not subject to extradition. The case was referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions to consider prosecution in Ireland.
Since 2004 the United States has frequently called for pressure against North Korea in an attempt to end the alleged distribution of supernotes. It has investigated the Bank of China, Banco Delta Asia, and Seng Heng Bank. The U.S. eventually prohibited Americans from banking with Banco Delta Asia. However, an audit of the bank disputed U.S. allegations and indicated that the only time Banco Delta Asia had knowingly handled counterfeit money was in 1994 when it discovered and turned over $10,000 in counterfeit $100 bills to local authorities. The United States has threatened North Korea with sanctions over its alleged involvement with the supernotes, though it said those sanctions would be a separate issue from the nuclear one.
South Korea has attempted to play a middle role, encouraging all parties to reach an acceptable conclusion without animosity. In a major meeting on January 22, 2006, the U.S. laid out its evidence and tried to persuade the Seoul government to take a harder line on the issue and impose similar financial sanctions, but was rebuffed. South Korea prefers to place blame on North Korean organizations rather than the government, believing that this change in rhetoric can mollify North Korea and be conducive to a resumption of the six-party talks.
On February 2, 2006, banks in Japan voluntarily enforced sanctions on Banco Delta Asia identical to those imposed by the United States. Later in August 2006, the Sankei Shimbun reported that North Korea had opened 23 bank accounts in 10 countries, with the likely intent of laundering more superbills.
The U.S. Secret Service estimates that North Korea has produced $45 million in superdollars since 1989. They are produced at the Pyongsong Trademark Printing Factory, which is under the supervision of General O Kuk-ryol.
Before the 1979 Iranian Revolution Iran used intaglio machines to print its currency, as did the United States and other governments. There has been some speculation that Iran has used these to print superdollars.
Doubt concerning the nature of these supernotes arose on January 10, 2008, in the McClatchy Washington Bureau. The article makes mention of the increasing doubt of testimonies and sources, and of the CIA's involvement. Klaus Bender, an author of works on counterfeiting, claimed that the notes are of such high quality that they could only be produced by a government agency such as the CIA. This 2008 article also states that the United States no longer explicitly accuses the North Korean government of producing supernotes. However, in 2009 a report by the Congressional Research Service renewed the accusation.
Other theories of the bills' origin have become increasingly popular; Iran remains a suspect to many, while others blame independent criminal gangs operating out of Russia or China. In 2000, the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, an Israel-based think tank, laid the blame on Syria: "The Bekaa Valley has become one of the main distribution sources, if not production points, of the 'supernote' – counterfeit U.S. currency so well done that it is impossible to detect."
- Counterfeit United States currency
- Operation Bernhard - a similar operation run by Nazi Germany during the Second World War with forged Pound Sterling notes as well as American dollars.
- Some sources also view other high-dollar notes, such as the counterfeit $50, as "superdollars," "supernotes," or "superbills."
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