Daily NK on Office 39

Pictured above is the location of the First Caribbean International Bank

According to the Daily NK:

The existence of a secret bank account operated by the No.39 Department of the Chosun Workers’ Party has been publicly confirmed for the first time, bringing yet more attention to bear on the activities of banks in one of the western world’s renowned tax havens.

The No.39 Department, which is responsible for the management of Kim Jong Il’s private funds, holds the bank account with the British Virgin Islands branch of First Caribbean International Bank (FCIB), a prominent bank in the Caribbean region.

According to an expert source familiar with China and North Korea, the No. 39 Department’s secret overseas account exists under the name “Hana Holdings”. It is apparently held with the Road Town branch of the bank, which is based in Barbados and has branches in 17 countries.

Explaining the importance to North Korea of the No.39 Department account, the source told Daily NK, “Due to recent UN Security Council sanctions, the No. 39 Department is experiencing considerable difficulties with its overseas financial trade. Currently, excluding Chinese banks, their only active overseas account is that held with FirstCaribbean International Bank.”

Also, he added, “The only bank through which the No. 39 Department can make overseas transfers is FirstCaribbean International Bank in the British Virgin Islands, since their other secret bank accounts are all blocked.”

He said, “In cases of normal trade relationships with other companies, it used to be possible to transfer the money overseas from China. However, those routes are blocked as well. Since United Nation’s financial sanctions against North Korea make it difficult for North Korea to transfer money to accounts in third countries from Chinese banks, all foreign currency earning units including the No. 39 Department are experiencing the same difficulties.”

Generally, the No. 39 Department works by transferring money from secret overseas bank accounts to accounts with Chinese banks for money laundering.

The source explained, “No. 39 Department moves the management funds from third countries to FirstCaribbean International Bank, then sends the money to the Bank of China until it can be transferred to a North Korean bank or withdrawn.”

According to the source, the person in charge of transfers between FirstCaribbean International Bank and Bank of China is dispatched by the No. 39 Department under a false name. Also, the official allegedly travels to China frequently to deal with problems involving trade with the Chinese bank.

News of the FCIB account will not be too surprising to North Korea economy watchers. Entities in the British Virgin Islands were already suspected of doing business with the North Korean regime before this latest revelation because of the islands’ connection to the activities of Taepung International Investment Group.

The annual returns of the Taepung Group, as it is more commonly known, show that it was originally set up in September, 2006. However, it became better known early in 2010 when it was placed at the center of efforts to revive the North Korean economy through the creation of a state development bank.

Registered in Hong Kong, its only shareholder as of its 2010 Annual Return was Taepung International Investment Holdings Ltd, whose registered address is in Road Town, British Virgin Islands.

According to the same return, obtained by a keen observer of North Korea’s illegal activities, Ken Kato, the Taepung Group’s corporate secretary is Sai Ying Company Ltd, whose only shareholder, and corporate director, is JYBD Holdings Ltd. JYBD Holdings Ltd’s registered address is the same one in Road Town, British Virgin Islands.

This is not the first time that FirstCaribbean International Bank has run into trouble, either. In 2008, it was indicted on 113 charges of “failure to report suspicious transactions” between 2001 and 2005 by the Belize Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU).

However, the charges were dropped because, according to a Belize newspaper, they were threatening to destabilize the country’s financial sector. Instead, First International was ordered to pay for both an electronic reporting system for the country and the refurbishment of two parks.

There are known to be a substantial number of other North Korean accounts held in countries around the world. At the time of the report completed by the 1718 Committee (North Korea sanctions committee) under the UN Security Council last July, North Korean banks were said to hold a total of 39 accounts with 18 banks located in 14 countries. Allegedly, these accounts include a considerable number managed by the No. 39 Department.

17 of the 39 accounts were located with big Chinese banks like Bank of China, China Construction Bank and HSBC, according to the report. Bank of China in Macao had the largest number of North Korean accounts, while some other accounts were held with Beijing and Dandong branches.

In addition, at the time, North Korea had 18 accounts with 11 banks in 8 countries in Europe; Russia, Switzerland, Denmark, Hungary, Poland, Italy, Germany, and Belarus; also, it had one account each in Malaysia and Kazakhstan.

As the 1718 Committee report explained, “The DPRK… employs a broad range of techniques to mask its financial transactions, including the use of overseas entities, shell companies, informal transfer mechanisms, cash couriers and barter arrangements. However, it must still, in most cases, rely on access to the international financial system to complete its financial operations. In structuring these transactions, attempts are made to mix illicit transactions with otherwise legitimate business activities in such a way as to hide the illicit activity.”

And also according to the Daily NK:

The newly revealed secret overseas bank account held by the No. 39 Department is just one of several accounts set up in various locations around the world to manage Kim Jong Il’s funds.

However, due to the financial sanctions brought about by two nuclear tests and multiple missile launches, the No. 39 Department’s secret overseas accounts are continuously shrinking. As one North Korean source in China put it, “Due to United Nation’s financial sanction against North Korea, the No. 39 Department’s management of its overseas secret accounts has become difficult.”

Now, due to the Cheonan incident, the U.S. is planning to put in place “customized” financial sanctions which incorporate existing UN Security Council and EU financial sanctions, so the No. 39 Department’s overseas accounts will only get more difficult to manage in the future.

The No. 39 Department’s overseas accounts, which allegedly contribute much to Kim Jong Il’s governing funds, are prime targets for financial sanction since they are key to transferring those funds generated by illegal activity.

According to intelligence authorities, the No.39 Department has a bank account with Daesung Bank in Pyongyang, and manages capital in some of the world’s most influential banks in Macao, Hong Kong, Germany, Japan, and England through a subsidiary of Daesung Bank, Gold Star Bank (Geumbyeol Bank) in Vienna, Austria.

The $25 million which was frozen in Banco Delta Asia in 2005 was allegedly known to be some of Kim Jong Il’s governing funds managed by the No. 39 Department.

Radio Free Asia reports that even the Luxembourg government seems likely to implement any new sanctions, quoting them as saying, “We are keeping a close eye on the illegal activities which can take place through North Korea’s overseas accounts.”

The No. 39 Department has 17 overseas branches, 100 trading companies and banks under its auspices. They generate foreign currency through loyalty funds collected from each agency and management of hotels and foreign currency stores. Also, they trade the country’s natural resources including pine mushrooms, gold and silver.

The department is also in charge of the production of “supernotes,” high quality counterfeit $100 bills, and has a role in weapons and the illegal drugs trade.

The funds are mostly spent on the living costs of the Kim family and the patronage network required to maintain his coterie of high officials. In 2008, the sum of luxury goods purchased by North Korea was estimated to be more than $100 million. For example, immediately prior to the anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s birth on April 15th, North Korea imported approximately 200 high grade vehicles from China.

Since foreign currency generation started to become difficult due to the sanctions, Kim Jong Il has allegedly revived the No. 38 Department, which used to be in charge of overseas currency earning and was only merged with the No. 39 Department in September of 2009, and replaced the head of No. 39 Department with Jeon Il Choon, an old high school friend.

As Kim Kwang Jin, a North Korean defector who worked for the Northeast Asia Bank of North Korea, pointed out in a recent press interview, “The UN Security’s North Korea sanctions and the United States’ Banco Delta Asia sanctions must have caused the shrinking of North Korea’s overseas accounts. It is possible that North Korea could try to open accounts under phantom company names to continue with its financial trades.”

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