Prosecutors here have arrested a North Korean agent who made money for the regime by exchanging US$100 "supernotes" in China. The woman was the first person to be nabbed in the South in connection with the forgeries, which owe their name to their excellent quality.
The Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office on Monday said it indicted the 46-year-old agent of North Korea's State Security Department identified as Lee on charges of attempting to infiltrate South Korea by pretending to be a defector, and of circulating some $570,000 worth of supernotes in Beijing and Shenyang from 2001 to 2007.
Lee has a master's degree in economics from Kim Il-sung University and was sent to Shenyang in 2001 after undergoing spy training specializing in counterfeit money and currency trading, according to prosecutors.
Her handler, a mid-level agent, delivered the fake $100 bills to her in bundles with a nominal value of $10,000-30,000. She took them to China, where she exchanged them and delivered the yuan back to her handler.
Prosecutors said Lee told them Chinese money changers knew that the notes were fake but exchanged them for yuan at a rate of 1 to 2, whereas the official rate was 1 to 6.
Lee said her handler told her that the supernotes were printed in Pyongsong, South Pyongan Province. She is said to have received a medal of honor from the North Korean regime in recognition of her efforts.
Prosecutors believe Lee also engaged in espionage. They say she was ordered to approach a Korean-American CIA officer, a native of South Pyongan Province in North Korea, to dig up useful information. Between November 2007 and October last year, she gathered information on South Korea while running a guest house for South Korean students in Tianjin.
Late last year, she arrived in South Korea pretending to be a North Korean defector, but her identity was uncovered in routine questioning by the National Intelligence Service.
"It seems that Lee attempted to infiltrate South Korea at the orders of the State Security Department in a bid to move her base of operations," a security official said. "We assume that the North is using female agents in trading supernotes and earning hard currency because women tend to incur less suspicion."