Cambodia charges 'fake' money smugglers

Oct. 24, 2012 at 6:30 AM
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PHNOM PENH, Cambodia, Oct. 24 (UPI) -- Cambodian authorities have charged three men suspected of involvement in an international smuggling plot involving millions of counterfeit U.S. currency.

The men -- one with connections to the military -- were allegedly planning to smuggle the fake money into Cambodia from Thailand, a report by The Phnom Penh Post said.

The men liaised with Thai middlemen and used the name of Prime Minister Hun Sen's chief bodyguard to secure the deal, a provincial court heard.

One of the arrested men, Pin Tipelo, 38, is a bodyguard to four-star Gen. Hing Bunheang, who is in charge of the Hun's personal security.

Tipelo and Hean Bunkem, 30, and Ung Penktry, 50, were charged with fraud in the Kandal Provincial Court for their role in the alleged money-smuggling plot.

Police said they had been following the men for several months before arresting them Oct. 18, the Post report said. Police said they observed four meetings with the Thai criminals beginning in September.

"They were arrested while meeting and discussing the plot to smuggle the fake U.S. currency," Kandal Deputy Police Commissioner Col. Roeun Nara said.

Police said they believed no counterfeit money entered Cambodia because of the suspected dealings.

A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy told the Post that U.S. government officials regularly meet their Cambodian counterparts to discuss "homing in" on money laundering and counterfeiting but said the current case was an internal matter for Cambodia.

The Post report gave no details of the amount of suspected counterfeit currency or the denominations of banknotes.

U.S. officials have been concerned about the circulation globally of so-called "superdollars" -- sometimes called superbills or supernotes -- since the 1990s.

The counterfeit $100 U.S. notes are made to the highest standard, often in Asia and in particular North Korea, a report by The Washington Times in June 2009 said.

The Times report said U.S. and foreign intelligence agencies cited a North Korean general who is a confidant of the country's leader at the time, Kim Jong Il, as a key figure in the covert production and distribution of supernotes.

North Korean Gen. O Kuk Ryol, who had been promoted to the country's powerful National Defense Commission, and several of his family members were said to be in charge of producing the phony money, the Times said.

But tracking down counterfeiters and transporters never has been easy, often hampered by lack of extradition treaties between countries and court interpretations of treaties when they exist.

In January the U.S. government lost a major extradition request with Ireland. A court in Dublin refused an extradition request for Sean Garland, suspected with involvement in distributing supernotes that allegedly originated in North Korea.

Garland, a long-time socialist and IRA man, was arrested in Belfast in 2005 while attending a meeting of the Workers' Party. He was released on bail pending an extradition hearing with the British government but fled across the border to the republic.

He was arrested in Dublin in 2009 on the force of an international warrant that claimed he was a ringleader in the distribution of superbills, a report by RTE, the Republic of Ireland's state broadcaster, said.

The Irish High Court heard that Garland, 78, had handed over almost $250,000 in fake U.S. currency in Russian hotels in the late 1990s in an international plot to spread the notes across Europe, RTE reported.

Garland, aged 77, allegedly met a co-conspirator twice in Moscow with the fake cash.

However, a ruling in December said Garland couldn't be extradited to the United States because some or part of the alleged offenses had been committed in Ireland.

Garland yet may face the charges. In January, the High Court said it would ask the Director of Public Prosecutions to consider whether he could be prosecuted in Ireland for his alleged role the counterfeit case, The Journal newspaper in Dublin reported.

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