GOOD Guide: to North Korea, All Your Currency Are Belong to Us (sec. 9 of 10)
GOOD Guide to North Korea, All Your Currency Are Belong to Us
Division 39 is a closely guarded Pyongyang-run network of trading companies set up in the 1970s. Established specifically to procure hard currency (the need for which has only increased with the disintegration of the economy), Division 39 does so through a web of legitimate and luridly nefarious schemes.Division 39 exports ginseng and exotic mushrooms; it also smuggles ivory, runs a lucrative trade in opium, methamphetamine, counterfeit Marlboro cigarettes, and home-made Viagra; directs North Korea's arms trading activities; and, perhaps most brazenly, produces and circulates their own U.S. $50 and $100 bills. These so-called "Super Notes" are the best forgeries in the world. The money supplements Pyongyang's purchase of nuclear equipment and funds Kim Jong Il's supply-line of luxury goods (Mercedes, Rolexes, Hennessy Cognac).Coordinating its activities with Division 38 (which manages the money Division 39 brings in) and Division 35 (which oversees state-sponsored kidnappings and assassinations), Division 39 is said to have earned North Korea more than $5 billion over the years; the United States discovery of the Super Note led to the recent redesigns of our currency.