North Korea may have perfected a method of creating extremely high-quality counterfeit $100 bills.
A number of near-perfect fake US banknotes have recently been discovered in neighbouring South Korea, which are said to have been almost indistinguishable from the real thing.
Forgery experts at KEB Hana Bank, where one of the bogus notes was discovered, described the fake bills as “the first of a new kind of supernote ever found in the world”.
South Korean authorities say they have no idea how many of the counterfeit notes are in circulation in the country, and suspect an unknown number may have entered financial systems in other nations.
Previous forged $100 bills thought to have originated from North Korea have been dated from 2001 or 2003.
The new notes are dated from 2006, and are said to be of a much higher quality than counterfeit currency that has come out of North Korea in the past.
Lee Ho-jung, a bank spokesman, told South Korean daily the Hankyoreh: “They are made with special ink that changes colour depending on the angle, patterned paper and Intaglio printing that gives texture to the surface of a note.
“It seems that whoever printed these supernotes has the facilities and high level of technology matching that of a government.”
Another exert told the paper: “To print supernote-level forgeries, you need a minting corporation-level production line in place, which costs hundreds of billions of won.
“This makes it difficult for ordinary criminal organisations to produce them.”
In 2006, US government officials estimated there are were at least $250 million worth of bogus $100 bills in circulation worldwide.
Counterfeiting currency is one of the ways the North Korean regime has sought to offset the effects of crippling sanctions slapped on Pyongyang by the international community.
According to a 2009 report from the Congressional Research Service, North Korea earns as much as $25 million a year from printing fake currency.
As well as minting counterfeit cash, Pyongyang has a number of other ways to bring in hard currency while avoiding sanctions.
It was recently reported that North Korean diplomats have become involved in wildlife smuggling, with one official from the country being stopped in Mozambique in possession of $100,000 in cash and 4.5kgs of rhino horn.
North Korea also uses a network of bogus companies to import goods that it has been banned from acquiring legitimately.
Pyongyang is helped by the fact that major trading partners such as China and Russia are happy to turn a blind eye to illicit transactions conducted between the North Korean regime and companies operating out of their territories.