Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Hermit Kingdom's search for hard currency

Here's one that slipped under the radar screens of the media...

In March of this year, the U.S. Congressional Research Service prepared a background paper (see www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/RL33324.pdf) detailing American claims that North Korea is involved in a major counterfeiting operation.

Essentially, they believe that Kim Jong Il's government is printing bogus US$100 bills, which the North Koreans can then launder in foreign nations. It's a brilliantly simple scheme for a country that needs to raise something like a billion dollars a year to fund its trade deficit while facing a near global pariah status.

According to the researchers, at least $45 million in fake American banknotes have been detected so far and the belief is that Pyongyang earns somewhere between 15 and 25 million dollars a year through their counterfeiting operations. The DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) denies the allegations.

For anyone who travels extensively - such as mariners - there are only two currencies worth carrying: the U.S. dollar and the Euro. And as hated America may be in some parts of the globe, their money remains revered, far more than the European version. In the remotest parts of Vietnam, Russia or Cuba, a U.S. C-note goes a long way for a lost soul. But if this situation continues, it could change the relative worth of the Franklin banknote worldwide.

The U.S. Treasury plans to revamp the hundred dollar bill next year, to make it more difficult to counterfeit. In the meantime, check your greenbacks, especially if in Asia.

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