North Korea issues high-value vouchers, photo evidence shows — Radio Free Asia

North Korea’s Central Bank printed a 50,000 won ($8.30) voucher worth 10 times its highest face value, photographic evidence obtained exclusively by RFA showed.

North Korean paper money is available in denominations ranging from the virtually worthless 5-won note ($0.00083) to the 5,000-won note, worth less than $1. People usually use a mixture of foreign currencies like the dollar and the Chinese yuan in conjunction with the North Korean won to pay for goods and services.

RFA received photos of the new voucher from the JM Missionary Union, a Seoul-based organization with knowledge of the situation.

The banknote bears the name of the Central Bank of the DPRK with an issue date of “Juche 111”, the current year in the North Korean calendar which begins in 1912, the year of birth of the national founder Kim Il Sung. The background shows Mount Paektu, a mountain on the Sino-Korean border that is sacred in Korean culture.

RFA was unable to confirm how many 50,000 won notes were printed or if they are in circulation. The organization said the voucher was issued earlier this year and was being used in Pyongyang.

South Korean sources who requested anonymity due to the country’s presidential transition period told RFA’s Korea Service that North Korea issued a high-value cash coupon earlier this year, but no couldn’t confirm it was a 50,000 won voucher.

They said the high-value vouchers were for business-to-business transactions.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry could not confirm whether North Korea had issued vouchers worth more than 5,000 won ($0.83), which Korea’s Central Bank said. DPRK did in the second half of last year.

“The problems associated with the issuance of the [5,000 won] money coupons have been identified through messages to North Korean escapees…but the purpose of their issuance and distribution has not been specifically identified,” the ministry told RFA.

A photo provided exclusively to RFA by the JM Missionary Union in Seoul shows the back of a new 50,000 won voucher issued by North Korea’s central bank. Photo: JM Missionary Union

During an audit of South Korea’s National Assembly last year, the National Intelligence Service (NIS), Seoul’s spy agency, confirmed that the 5,000 won bills were in circulation.

The NIS said in its report that the vouchers were issued because North Korea lacks the paper and ink needed to print money due to the suspension of imports at the start of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.

Imports resumed on a limited basis early this year, but trade volumes have yet to reach normal levels.

Issuing money bills may also indicate that North Korea is trying to avoid inflation by not printing real money, the Bank of Korea, South Korea’s central bank, said in a report. last month, which did not mention vouchers in the 50,000 won denomination.

The report said cash flow in the North has been disrupted due to the economic crisis and that vouchers are a way to increase the money supply, possibly for use in business-to-business transactions, while North Korean authorities can keep corporate cash in reserve.

“Money has to flow. From the authorities’ point of view, they circulate money, but it doesn’t come back to them,” Lim Song, an economist specializing in North Korea at the Bank of Korea’s Economic Research Institute, told RFA.

“The central bank has to print money to circulate money, but that will cause inflation, so instead of paper bills, they circulate money coupons that they can convert when the economic situation improves,” he said.

Translated by Claire Lee and Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

Jack C. Nugent