Head of Office 39 replaced

According to the Guardian:

It is the nerve centre of North Korea’s money-making operations, the department dedicated to raising hard currency for Kim Jong-il while his country teeters on the brink of collapse.

Room 39 is responsible for some legal ventures, such as the country’s limited exports of ginseng and other items. But according to defectors, most of its energy goes into drug-trafficking, sales of weapons and missile technology, and the production of counterfeit US dollar bills.

Today, it was reported the department’s head – Kim Jong-il’s personal finance manager – has been sacked, possibly in response to international action against the alleged illegal moneymaking. South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said Kim Dong-un was dismissed because he had been blacklisted by so many foreign governments, including the EU in December, leaving him unable to travel on behalf of Room 39’s legal companies. He has been replaced by his deputy, Jon Il-chun, Yonhap said, citing an unidentified source.

Housed in an unremarkable government compound in Pyongyang, Room 39 oversees 120 companies and mines, accounting for a quarter of all North Korean trade and employing 50,000 people, according to Lim Soo-ho, a research fellow at the Samsung Economic Research Institute. He said Kim’s dismissal may be part of attempts to get around international sanctions.

While its inner workings remain a mystery to all but its occupants and the family they serve, Room 39’s role in enabling the regime to survive even in times of widespread famine and international pressure, has come under greater scrutiny since the imposition last year of tough UN sanctions over its nuclear programme.

Some of the money generated by Room 39 is used to buy the loyalty of senior party officials, a role that may take on greater prominence as Kim Jong-il, who suffered a stroke in 2008, prepares to hand over power to his third son, Kim Jong-un. Analysts have estimated that illegal activities account for up to 40% of all North Korean trade and an even higher share of total cash earnings.

Additional information: 

1. More on the EU travel ban is here.

2. Office 39 is reportedly located here.  Kim Jong Il’s office is reportedly nearby here.

3. This week the KWP’s finance director, Pak Nam-gi, was also let go.

4. Mike Madden notes the new director’s  appearance with KJI at an “On the Spot Guidance” visit this week.  Mike also points to a possible appearance the Korea Taepung International Investment Group meeting.


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