iD magazine - - Current Events -


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.

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