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S Korean lawmakers give details on North fake money

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SEOUL, Feb 23 (Reuters) Fake US dollar bills are printed at a press in the North Korean capital Pyongyang and are then circulated through a state-run trading firm, a South Korean lawmaker said today, referring to samples he said he got from the North.

Another legislator said he had also obtained counterfeit US 100 dollar notes through North Korean trading company officials who he said were certain to be intelligence agents.

Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan told parliament the government was looking into ''a broader range of materials'' but said it still had no conclusive evidence that would link the notes to North Korea.

North Korea has denied US charges that it is involved in illicit financial activities, including counterfeiting, that Washington says helped fund the North's nuclear programmes.

Pyongyang has said the charges are part of a US smear campaign designed to topple the leadership in Pyongyang. It has said it would not resume six-country talks on ending its nuclear programmes until Washington ends the campaign.

The South Korean legislators disclosed what they said were samples and aerial photographs of the printing press building while addressing a parliamentary question session today.

The centre of counterfeiting of US notes is a nondescript building in Pyongyang that also prints ''special documents'' such as North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's portraits, opposition Grand National Party parliamentarian Kim Jae-won said.

''The information comes from a recent defector from the North who was a high-ranking official,'' Kim said. But he declined to disclose the identity of the defector.

Kim's aide said the notes have been verified as superior quality counterfeit by an expert at the Korea Exchange Bank.

The US embassy in Seoul yesterday said Washington had provided South Korea with evidence North Korea had been producing high-quality counterfeit US notes.

South Korean Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan said there was still no conclusive evidence to point the finger at North Korea.

''It has not been clearly and unmistakably confirmed where, who and how these counterfeit notes were issued and circulated,'' Lee told parliament.

''But the government is looking at various worrying situations, and that's why we have conveyed our serious concern to the North,'' he said.

Another opposition parliamentarian, Kim Moon-soo, said he had also obtained 2003-issue 100 dollars US notes through human rights activists in the Chinese city of Dandong that borders the North.

''I paid 70 dollars to get each of these, but you can get them for as little as 50 dollars in China,'' Kim told parliament.

Reuters SHR GC1840

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