PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA
CAN THIS ROOM TOPPLE A WORLD POWER?
It is one of the most monumental counterfeiting scandals in history: In 2004 U.S. investigators reveal “superdollars,” deceptively reallooking forgeries of $100 bills, are in circulation around the world. The news induces widespread panic. In America stock prices fall while Taiwanese banks are inundated by anxious customers looking to exchange their $100 bills— at a loss of several hundred million dollars to the banks. For 20 years the fake superdollars had been circulating unnoticed in the international markets. Only today is it clear: The forged notes come from the most secret and illegal office building in the world: Room 39, also known as Office 39—the central hub for the operations of North Korea, somewhere deep in the government building of the Workers’ Party of Korea ( WPK) in Pyongyang. In the 1970s it was established at the behest of the WPK’S Central Committee in order to secure an independent power base. Besides the revenue from international drug trafficking, insurance fraud, and cigarette smuggling, Room 39 all on its own generates up to $ 2 billion a year through the counterfeiting of currency. Behind the machinations of this office is the current ruler of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, who uses the ill-gotten gains to finance his military installations and luxury lifestyle. To date little is known about Room 39 beyond the suspicion that the office is located in a WPK building in North Korea’s capital city. There’s also concern that the 130 or so employees of Room 39 could one day trigger a global financial catastrophe. There was a warning of that in 2009, when it emerged that North Korea had been hoodwinking Western insurance companies for years and had raked in several hundred million dollars through alleged disasters such as helicopter crashes or sunken ships.
The precise location of Room 39 in the North Korean government district in Pyongyang is top secret. From here the country’s dictator, Kim Jong-un (left), manages the global counterfeiting operations that constitute part of the array of nefarious activities being executed.
39.1155° N 125.4511° E