North Korea launching massive anti-corruption drive

Last Friday, Yonhap reported that Kim Jong Il has ordered an anti-corruption investigation of two key agencies, both of which manage South Korean investments in the DPRK: the United Front Department (which Lankov claims is involved in clandestine operations) and the National Economic Cooperation Council.

North Korea is in the midst of a massive anti-corruption drive which has already resulted in the arrest of one of its top officials handling business with South Korea, informed sources in Seoul said Saturday.

The campaign, ordered by leader Kim Jong-il, was prompted by widespread allegations that some top party and administration officials took bribes as they pushed business projects with South Korean industrialists, said the sources well versed in North Korean affairs.

“The probe was launched as National Defense Commission Chairman Kim Jong-il said there was a lack of supervision over the United Front Department [a key party organization that supervises inter-Korean affairs], although lots of suspicions were raised over the department’s corruption,” one source told Yonhap News Agency.

According to the sources in Seoul, the North Korean leader was enraged after getting a report that some party and government officials allegedly pocketed bribes and diverted food and other aid from South Korea to black markets.

Also under investigation is the National Economic Cooperation Council, a government body that handles business with South Korean entrepreneurs, the sources said.

The Council’s chief, Jeong Woon-eop, remains under arrest pending investigation into allegations that he took “huge amounts” of bribes, said the sources, who wanted to remain anonymous. (Yonhap excerpted)

Frequently “anti-corruption campaigns” in developing countries have nothing to do with making the bureaucracy more accountable or responsive to public demands, but rather are political maneuvers to prevent “rents” or funds from being channeled to uses that lie outside the leadership’s control (or some faction of the leadership).  In other words, they are regime enhancing.  The announcement of this campaign demonstrates two important principles that deserve explicit mention:

1. Not all profits earned by North Korean joint ventures are channeled to the leadership, and in fact many of them are siphoned off by middlemen who actually control the financial machinery.  Once skimmed off the top, it is likely that these funds are used in illicit private commercial operations since they cannot be legally declared by the owner (unless there are domestic channels for laundering money in North Korea).

2.  If funds are being siphoned off of high-profile official joint venture operations, then the leadership is not in control of its internal fiscal affairs.  Indeed it is likely that, as in the Soviet Union, the people who keep the private economy running are the trusted mid- to senior-level officials who can skirt the rules and know how to actually get things done within the system.

Update 2/24/2008:

North Korean authorities have been investigating the chief of a North Korean committee in charge of inter-Korean economic cooperation for months after seizing $20 million from his house, a report said Friday.

The full article can be found here:
NK Official Suspected of Embezzling Funds From Seoul
Korea Times
Jung Sung-ki

Update 2/12/2008:

The chief of Daesung General Bureau, a division of the 39th Department which manages foreign transactions, was fired on suspicion of embezzling US$1.4 million last fall.” (Daily NK)

The full article can be found here:
North Korea launching massive anti-corruption drive


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