Suspected counterfeit bills in safe in NKorea
UNITED NATIONS – U.N. and American authorities are investigating how $3,500 in suspected counterfeit $100 bills ended up sitting in a safe in the U.N. Development Program’s office in North Korea for 12 years, the agency’s chief spokesman said Monday.David Morrison, the spokesman, said UNDP senior management became aware of the money in February and immediately contacted U.S. authorities to report it. He said the bills have since been turned over to Secret Service, which has asked to interview several UNDP staffers as part of its investigation.Richard Grenell, spokesman for the U.S. mission to the U.N., said Monday he could not comment on an “ongoing criminal inquiry.” Eric Zahren, a spokesman for the Secret Service, also declined to comment.Morrison said the U.N. agency, which recently suspended its program in North Korea after the U.S. alleged that U.N. aid money was being diverted to Kim Jong Il’s regime, is investigating how the money went undetected for so long.”Something should have been done with the money over the past 12 years to get it back in the hands of the proper American authorities and we are looking into that,” Morrison said.He said, however, that this is the only incident he is aware of involving suspected counterfeit currency in UNDP’s program in North Korea.”There is a full audit and if there’s anything else that comes to light, it should come to light through that process,” he added.Morrison said the $3,500 in question had been sent to the UNDP office in North Korea in 1995 by an Egyptian who had done consulting services for the agency. He said the Egyptian had been paid with a check, which he cashed at a bank in North Korea for American currency. When the man took the $3,500 home to Egypt, a bank there refused to accept the $100 bills and invalidated them.Morrison said the man did not provide the UNDP office with any information to confirm that the bills had come from the Foreign Trade Bank in Pyongyang. He said the man was not issued another check from the office.The money then apparently remained in a safe at the UNDP office until last month when the head of the North Korea office recalled that the bills were there during a visit to UNDP headquarters in New York, he said.Morrison denied suggestions in a report published Friday in The New York Sun that UNDP avoided reporting the money was in the safe because it was feared a scandal would force the North Korea program to shut down.”That’s completely absurd,” he said.The agency’s North Korea program has been under scrutiny since January, when the U.S. accused the agency of funneling millions of dollars in hard currency to North Korea with little assurance that Kim used the money to help his people instead of diverting it to “illicit purposes,” including nuclear weapons.The UNDP denied any wrongdoing, saying that it stopped the practice of using hard currency to settle certain accounts in the country after questions were raised about them. It also said it would welcome an external audit, which U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon ordered after the allegations were made.Earlier this month, however, the agency decided to suspend its North Korea program after Pyongyang failed to meet certain conditions set by its board in the wake of the U.S. allegations.Those included no longer paying North Korean staff in hard currency, no longer employing North Koreans loaned from government agencies, and refocusing the agency’s programs to benefit the North Korean people rather than build the capacity of the government.The UNDP’s mission is to help developing nations shape economic development and good governance policies. The agency does not provide humanitarian aid.The suspension of the North Korean program is the first in memory for the U.N. agency and affects 20 projects with a budget of $4.4 million, including those helping the North deal with food security, biodiversity and economic management, Morrison said.