Archive for the ‘Alcohol’ Category

Taedonggang Beer to go on sale in US this year?

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

UPDATE 2 (2015-9-9): The Justice Department has suspended Steve Park, importer of North Korean beer. According to UPI:

Steve Park, also known as Park Il-woo, is a veteran businessman and president of Korea Pyongyang Trading U.S.A. Radio Free Asia reported in 2011 Park received permission from the U.S. government to import North Korea’s Taedonggang Beer, but Park’s failure to file tax returns starting in 2008 was one of the reasons his agent status was recently terminated.

The Foreign Agents Registration Act, which was passed in 1938, requires agents like Park to disclose information about their relationship with a foreign government.

Park, who was registered under FARA in December 2011, has been involved in other North Korea promotion projects in the United States. Park has been connected to tourism projects in North Korea’s Mount Kumgang region and investment proposals in the reclusive country.

Park was found in violation of FARA for not regularly reporting his income. Under the law, all foreign agents must report revenue and expenditures to the Treasury every six months, according to RFA.

In 2012, Park’s Korea Pyongyang Trading U.S.A. was shut down in New York State after receiving an order of dissolution.

UPDATE 1 (2011-4-22): Apparently extended/new sanctions announced by the Obama administration this week will not affect the import of Taedonggang Beer by Mr. Park.  According to KBS:

Following the latest sanction passed by the Obama administration, the United States importation of the North Korean beer brand Taedonggang was in doubt.

But a U.S. State Department official said that individuals or companies who gained import permits for North Korean goods before the order passed can continue with importation.

The official added that the new directive does not affect any North Korean imports that have been approved by the United States government.

U.S.-based firm Korea Pyongyang Trading U.S. has been given the green light to import 400-thousand bottles of Taedonggang beer this June.

ORIGINAL POST (2011-3-6): According to the Korea Times:

The VOA also confirmed that the U.S. government last year authorized the import of a North Korean beer, called “Daedonggang”.

“I received the final authorization on Sept. 30,” said Steve Park, a U.S-based importer. The first 2,000-2,500 cases of beer will be on sale this summer.

Steve Park first gained notoriety trying to import North Korean soju to the US. He was also prosecuted for being an unregistered foreign agent. You can read about these stories here.

But I wish him all the best in this endeavor.  Taedonggang beer tastes pretty good. It is a British lager after all.

Read the original story here:
N. Korean delegation to visit NY
Korea Times
Kim Se-jeong
3/4/2011

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“Marketization” diminishing importance of leader’s birthday

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

According to the Choson Ilbo:

The most important dates for North Koreans born since the 1970s are the birthdays of former leader Kim Il-sung on April 15 and present leader Kim Jong-il on Feb. 16. North Koreans may forget their parents’ birthdays but they always remember the leaders’, because that is when gifts of food and other daily necessities are doled out and a festive mood prevails throughout the country.

But now, due to international sanctions and the spread of grassroots capitalism, the traditional “gift politics” may be coming to an end as the regime can no longer afford to dole out grace and favor.

Gift Packages

The candy and cakes that were doled out on Kim Il-sung’s birthday were traditionally much better quality than those available in ordinary shops. Nylon and tetron fabric were also distributed, much more highly prized than the normally available synthetic cotton, mixed-spun or vinalon fabrics that shrink in the wash. Parents who can barely afford to clothe their children have no choice but to be grateful to Kim Il-sung.

On the two birthdays, a bottle of liquor, five eggs, two day’s supply of milled rice, 1-2 kg of meat, and cigarettes are distributed to every household. These are precious commodities not normally available to everyone. Thanks to these gift packages, the birthdays of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il have long become established as major holidays.

The elite of the Workers Party are given luxurious houses, luxury cars like Mercedes and Swiss-made Omega gold watches. Quality wristwatches are given to ordinary people who have distinguished themselves meritorious and are preserved as heirlooms.

Economic Changes

But amid a food shortage and international sanctions, the regime is having to rethink the practice. And markets are booming there now despite the regime’s attempt to suppress them, so North Koreans can buy Chinese-made candies and cakes and other necessities without much difficulties. This makes the leaders’ birthday gifts look not so special any more.

The quality of gifts is also falling year by year. Senior officials, unable to live on gifts and official supplies alone, enrich themselves through corruption. An increasing number of officials secretly hoard hundreds of thousands of dollars, and it is therefore natural that the leader’s gifts lose their luster.

January 8 was the birthday of Kim Jong-il’s son and heir Jong-un. Although there had been rumors that the regime would designate Kim junior’s birthday as a national holiday and hold lavish celebrations, it passed quietly.

The North designated Kim Jong-il’s birthday as a national holiday quite a few years after he made an official debut in 1974. It was also only when his power base was cemented that he began to dole out gifts to celebrate his birthday. While Kim Il-sung was alive, he gave gifts only to close associates as a gesture of courtesy to his father. So long as Kim Jong-il is alive, therefore, chances are that there will be no gifts to the public or nationwide celebrations on Jong-un’s birthday.

This story is reported every year for the leader’s birthday. Here is a link to previous posts on this topic.

Read the full story here:
N.Korean Regime’s ‘Gift Politics’ Starts to Lose Its Luster
Choson Ilbo
2/2/2011

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North Koreans receive largest gift rations since Kim Il-sung’s death

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

According to the Choson Ilbo:

North Koreans were given the most extra supplies on Oct. 10, the 65th founding day of the Workers Party, since nation founder Kim Il-sung’s death in 1994, Radio Free Asia in the U.S. claimed last Friday.

The so-called “holiday supplies” are various daily necessities sold at state prices or about 1/100 of market prices on major holidays such as Kim Il-sung’s and current leader Kim Jong-il’s birthdays.

On the day, two days’ supply of food and daily necessities were supplied at state prices, a senior party official in Daehongdan-gun in Yanggang Province was quoted by RFA as saying.

Each of about 9,500 homes in the county received two bottles of liquor, 1 kg of potato noodles, 1 kg of potato starch syrup, a bottle of vinegar, a bottle of soybean oil, 1 kg of pork, a cake of soap, a pair of shoes, toothbrushes and toothpaste, the official said.

Another North Korean source said the sudden bounty led to drunken accidents and an inebriated gang fight between youngsters, several of whom were taken to hospital. The source said a tractor carrying potatoes keeled over, killing four people.

Holiday rations/gifts are a time honored tradition in the DPRK, though their significance to the North Korean people has declined since the “arduous march” and the rise of markets.

Paradoxically, their importance to foreign observers of the DPRK has in fact grown since the “arduous march”.  This is because the composition of the gifts, or lack thereof, is important data for estimating the strength of the Public Distribution System and by extension the state’s finances.  By giving the most generous gifts since Kim Il-sung’s death, the DPRK government wants us, and the North Korean people, to believe its fiscal position is improving.

Here, here, herehere, and here are previous posts about holiday rations.

Here is a story in the Daily NK featuring pictures of holiday rations.

Read the full story here:
N.Korean Regime in Rare Show of Generosity
Choson Ilbo
10/25/2010

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Pyongyang night life

Sunday, September 12th, 2010

According to Sify News:

Life in Pyongyang, capital city of North Korea, is boisterous and fun-filled even as the country is threatened with military action from the West due to its nuclear programme, reports Xinhua.

Screams from roller coaster rides, karaoke and clink of beer glasses at night clubs seem to be quite a picture of metropolitan areas like New York, Tokyo or Beijing.

Well, make no mistake. This is what actually happens at night in Pyongyang.

Though without dazzling neon signs, the hustle and bustle of discos or the notorious red-light districts, night life in Pyongyang is not cloaked in silence.

Built in the 1980s in Pyongyang’s Moranbong area, the Kaeson Youth Park used to operate only a handful of simple rides and was open to the public only during the daytime and on holidays. With a restoration being done by authorities, tourists can now have fun, even at night, with an Italy-made ‘jumping machine’, pirate ship and roller coaster being rated at the top by visitors.

There are also video-game lounges, where children were seen shooting flying saucers and racing cars.

‘Over 5,000 people visited the park every night. And it is a good place for people to be relaxed after a day’s work,’ Kim Hyok, the park’s director, was quoted as saying by Xinhua.

While a visit to the park is not free of charge, it does not cost that much either.

An adult ticket costs 20 won (21 cents) and one for a child 10 won. And it costs about 250 won or $2.65 to take part in all the facilities. For foreigners, however, the ticket costs one euro ($1.27).

Even though electricity is in short supply in North Korea, authorities have specially laid two cables to guarantee regular service to the park.

Karaoke – popularly known in Pyongyang as ‘film-accompanied music’ – is another popular night time entertainment.

Even the country’s leader, Kim Jong Il, has supported popularising karaoke as he says it was a good way to make the lives of all people varied and rich.

In many restaurants in the capital city, karaoke as well as popular music is played for the pleasure of customers. To liven things up, waitresses are also trained to sing.

Beer bars and pubs are also reporting huge turnouts as night falls upon Pyongyang.

Bars are seen filled with laughter, cheers, and the aroma of tasty homemade beer.

The Qingxing beer house, Pyongyang’s largest bar, opened in April this year with a capacity of 1,000 people.

While retired people and housewives are seen in the daytime, government officials, public servants and workers would arrive after office hours.

Interestingly, the beer bar prepares only tables for customers and provides no chairs. Drinkers have to stand, while waiters serve beverages in carts.

During summer, the beer bar receives an estimated 3,500 to 4,000 customers per day.

Meanwhile, in a bid to attract more female customers, the Taedong Beer Brewhouse, which produces beer in a Pyongyang surburb, was preparing a fruity flavour.

Read the full story here:
North Korean capital has a night life – minus the dazzle
Sify News
9/12/2010

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Rakwon Department Store

Friday, July 2nd, 2010

According ot the Daily NK:

A source from inside North Korea has offered an insight into the lives of the rich and powerful Pyongyang elite thanks to some rare pictures of the Rakwon Department Store.

Rakwon Department Store, which can be found on Changgwang Street in the capital’s central district, is operated by Daesung Corporation, part of the powerful No.39 Department of the Chosun Workers’ Party. Lying in an area near Changgwangwon, Air Koryo HQ and the Changgwangsan Hotel, with one of the city’s nicest apartment complexes directly behind it, the store boasts state-of-the-art facilities.

On the first floor, there is a supermarket selling food and other daily requirements, while electronics and clothes are to be found on the second floor.

On the third floor, there is a restaurant with a separate exit to the street which boasts an advanced microbrewery imported from Germany to produce various draft beers.

The restaurant has a main area with twelve tables and a further fifteen rooms. Each room houses a 30” wall-mounted TV and karaoke facilities used by Party officials and their families. The restaurant is known to be among the best in the city, comparable with Roksanwon, which is run by the People’s Security Ministry.

The restaurant’s draft beers are particularly popular with the rich, and other restaurants in the city are now also seeking to import similar facilities, the source told The Daily NK.

As the pictures show, all restaurant prices are denominated in Euro.

There is also a sauna in the basement, the source said. Inside the sauna, there is both a swimming pool and family bathing area. As it happens, there is another popular swimming pool, Changgwangwon, right next door, but The Daily NK’s source explained which is better, saying, “Changgwangwon is for middle-class Pyongyang residents, but they really envy those Party officials and the privileged few who can go to Rakwon Department Store.”

A $30,000 grand piano was sold by Rakwon Department Store even during the currency reform period, causing a sensation among Pyongyang insiders, he added.

Here are the pictures from the story:

rakwonstore-1.jpg rakwonstore-2.jpg rakwonstore-3.jpg rakwonstore-4.jpg rakwonstore-5.jpg rakwonstore-6.jpg rakwonstore-7.jpg rakwonstore-8.jpg rakwonstore-9.jpg  

The Rakwon Department store used to sell the highly-demanded, high-quality Japanese goods for yen.  It is interesting to see how their business model has changed since the 1980s.

Read the full story here:
Pyongyang’s Fine Dept. Store, Rakwon
Daily NK
Park In Ho
7/2/2010

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Chongryon headquarters on block after ruling

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

According to the Daily NK:

Japan’s Supreme Court has ruled that Chongryon headquarters are a legitimate Chongryon asset which may be seized and auctioned as part of proceedings to recover loans made by a defunct credit union to the organization, Japanese broadcaster NHK reported on Tuesday.

A collection agency recently took over a number of bonds issued by the bankrupt Joeun Credit Union, which loaned around $700 million to Chongryon, the organization of North Koreans in Japan. The agency then announced its intention to pursue collection by putting Chongryon headquarters land and buildings in the Chiyoda district of Tokyo up for auction.

However, since the land and buildings are registered under a separate firm, Chosun Central Hall Management Association, the collection agency was required to file a lawsuit to get the necessary recognition of its right to seizure.

The court initially dismissed the collection agency’s claim on the grounds that the assets are held by a separate entity, but accepted, “It is possible to seize (the assets) if they can be shown to be actual Chongryon assets.”

Therefore, the collection agency filed a separate lawsuit to ask for recognition of the Chongryon headquarters estate and buildings as such an asset, and the Supreme Court has now ruled in its favor.

If the judgment is allowed to stand, the collection agency will be able to legally seize the estate and buildings of the Chongryon headquarters, adding to the organizations mounting woes.

Read the full story here:
Chongryon HQ on Block after Ruling
Daily NK
Yang Jung A
6/30/2010

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North Korea Looking to Makkoli Business

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

Daily NK
Hwang Ju Hee
6/7/2010

Showing Pyongyang’s desire to reach new markets, Uriminzokkiri (Being amongst Our Nation), a website managed by the North Korean Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, recently covered “Rakbaek Makkoli,” taking its lead from an article published in the latest issue of monthly domestic publication “Deungdae” (Lighthouse).

Makkoli is a traditional Korean drink made from fermented rice which has its roots in agricultural areas. Recently it has experienced a resurgence of popularity in South Korea.

The Uriminzokkiri report explained of the North Korean makkoli, “The makkoli produced by Rakwon Department Store in Pyongyang is a healthy beverage and good to drink. It is consumed internationally as well as domestically.”

Given that Uriminzokkiri is targeted at South Koreans, the appearance of “Rakbaek Makkoli” looks like an attempt to profit from the thriving South Korean makkoli business.

Although North Korea has exported “Pyongyang Soju” to the U.S., Japan and China in the past, consumers didn’t take to it due to its expensive price and strong taste. Therefore, North Korea may be looking to makkoli.

One defector, who used to be involved in trade in North Korea, explained in an interview with The Daily NK, “Bottled makkoli is thought of as a luxury beverage, but the general populace can drink it only on holidays when the state distributes it.”

He added, “But the common people, especially those who live in agricultural areas, brew their own with spoiled rice or bread and yeast. Cadres don’t usually drink this.”

The South Korean makkoli industry is thriving under the influence of a South Korean cultural wave which is in evidence in Japan, China, Taiwan and even as far away as the U.S. The most famous traditional makkoli, which is made in the southwest provinces of South Korea, has recently begun to be produced for export, while marketing men in Seoul recently hit upon calling makkoli “Drunken Rice” in an attempt to forge an international makkoli brand image.

To that end, makkoli has been promoted several times at summits and other international events by South Korean President Lee Myung Bak.

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DPRK diplos arrested for smuggling (again)

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

UPDATE:  According to the Boston Herald, the diplomats were sentenced to eight months in prison.

ORIGINAL POST: It is no secret that North Korean diplomats and embassies are self-financing.  In fact, they are profit earning and they must remit funds back to Pyongyang.  While this means that DPRK diplomatic relations are not a drain on the treasury, as is typically the case with other countries, it does mean that the DPRK’s official representatives are more likely to make headlines for their business dealings rather than political statements.

And so here is the latest installment in this saga from Reuters:

Swedish police have arrested two North Korean diplomats on suspicion of smuggling 230,000 cigarettes into the Nordic country, the Swedish Customs Office said Friday.

The pair, a man and a woman who have diplomatic status in Russia, were stopped by Swedish customs officers Wednesday morning as they drove off a ferry from Helsinki, the Finnish capital.

Customs officials discovered Russian cigarettes in the car driven by the couple, Swedish Customs spokeswoman Monica Magnusson told Reuters.

The two North Koreans claimed diplomatic immunity.

“They were accredited as diplomats in Russia, but had no accreditation in Sweden,” she said. “They were arrested on suspicion of smuggling.”

Magnusson added that the pair were still being held by Swedish police and that she was not aware of them having any contact with North Korean officials since their arrest.

Sweden’s Foreign Ministry said it had been informed of the arrests but would not comment directly on the matter, saying it was a criminal case and was being handled by the police.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Cecilia Julin said foreign diplomats are only immune from criminal prosecution in countries where they have been accredited with the authorities.

“If you come to Sweden and commit a crime, you’re just like any other foreign national,” she said.

Sweden is one of only seven countries to have an embassy in North Korea, treated by much of the world as a rogue state due to human rights abuses and its possession of nuclear weapons despite opposition by the international community.

The Foreign Ministry said the arrests were primarily a police matter, but that the North Korean embassy in Sweden was in contact with the ministry over the matter.

An official at the North Korean embassy in Stockholm said earlier he had no knowledge of the arrests.

North Korean diplomatic staff were expelled from Sweden and two other countries in 1976 after a “massive” smuggling scheme was uncovered.  According to Time Magazine (in 1976):

Not in years have so many diplomatic persona suddenly been declared non grata. In Oslo, members of North Korea’s diplomatic mission—three bureaucrats and a chauffeur—were given six days to pack up and get out. Foreign Ministry officials frostily informed North Korea’s Ambassador to Stockholm, Kil Jae Gyong, who is also accredited to Oslo, that he was no longer welcome in Norway. Similar scenes took place in Helsinki and Copenhagen, and as of last week, twelve North Korean embassy staffers had been unceremoniously ordered home to Pyongyang.

International politics had nothing to do with the abrupt action by the Scandinavian governments. What had happened was that North Koreans in all three countries* had been caught red-handed in a massive smuggling racket involving liquor, cigarettes and dope —apparently instigated by the financially hard-pressed government of President Kim II Sung. Officials in Norway estimated that their branch of the Kim gang had smuggled into the country at least 4,000 bottles of booze (mostly Polish vodka) and 140,000 cigarettes, which were then given surreptitiously to Norwegian wholesalers for distribution on the black market. In Denmark, the illegal goodies impounded so far included 400 bottles of liquor, 4.5 million cigarettes and 147 kilos of hashish, which police confiscated two weeks ago from two Danes who had just bought the drug from North Korean embassy staffers.

Personal Use. How long the North Koreans have been into smuggling as a sideline remains unclear, but Scandinavian officials have been closely watching their business dealings for about five months. In Norway, neighbors of the neat brick North Korean embassy in Oslo’s West End had long been puzzled by the constant movement of cars in and out of the compound and by the sight of mission staffers struggling in the backyard with huge mysterious boxes. In Denmark, customs officials got suspicious last month when the North Koreans imported 2.5 million duty-free cigarettes, allegedly for the “personal use” of one staffer.

The discovery of illegal activity by the North Koreans in Scandinavia may be only the iceberg’s tip. Five months ago in Cairo, Egyptian officials caught two North Korean diplomats with 400 kilos of hashish in their luggage. A North Korean official assigned to Malaysia has also been recalled after dealing in smuggled goods.

The North Koreans have protested their innocence, and mission staffers in Finland insisted that they would not leave the country. Nonetheless, Scandinavian officials have little doubt that the smuggling was ordered by Pyongyang as a desperate measure to help resolve the government’s horrendous financial crisis. Western experts estimate that North Korea, with a G.N.P. of only $4.5 billion, has a foreign debt of more than $2 billion, at least $500 million of which is owed to the capitalist world. North Korea not only maintains some 60 expensive missions abroad but also buys millions of dollars’ worth of advertising space in newspapers round the world every year to publicize the latest speeches of Kim II Sung. Faced with a severe shortage of hard Western currency, officials speculate, North Korean diplomats turned to smuggling to support their missions and pay for the ads, sending any excess profits home to Pyongyang.

The DPRK embassy has also been accused of smuggling in Pakistan.

Sometimes the DPRK embassy staff make “good” business decisions.

Good article here with further info (h/t OneFreeKorea).

2007 CRS report: Drug Trafficking and North Korea: Issues for U.S. Policy

You could probably write a series of books on the DPRK embassies in Russia and  China.

And just for the record: Sweden–the North Koreans are not the only ones doing this–everyone is.  When I lived in Europe over 15 years ago I talked with fellow teenagers about doing this!  If you want to increase people’s incomes, increase tax receipts, and lower the incomes of mobsters and bootleggers–lower your cigarette taxes!

Read the full stories here:
Diplomats arrested for cigarette smuggling
Reuters
Jens Hansegard
11/20/2009

SCANDINAVIA: Smuggling Diplomats
Time Magazine
11/1/1976

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No more beer commercials!

Monday, November 9th, 2009

Apparently Kim Jong il is growing intolerant of North Korean television advertising anything other than how great he and his father are.  According to Yonhap:

“Recently, Kim saw the commercials while watching TV. He was enraged, asking where the commercials came from and describing them as the prototype of China’s early reforms,” one source said.

Starting July 2, North Korea’s television played commercials that showed young women in traditional clothes serving frothy mugs of Taedonggang beer billed as “Pride of Pyongyang.”

Other products, including ginseng and quail, soon followed in television advertisements, which had rarely been seen in the country, generating outside speculation that North Korea may be starting to embrace the capitalist mode of life.

But according to Yonhap News Agency’s own analysis, the commercials disappeared as of the end of August. The sources said Cha Sung-su, the North’s top broadcaster, has also been discharged.

One source said Cha may have been unduly victimized in the case because the commercials were a product of Kim’s earlier instruction to create “more interesting and diverse” television programs.

Cha, 69, is one of Kim’s closest aides, having accompanied him on public inspections at least six times since the leader reportedly had a stroke last year and then recovered.

He is the North’s top television man, having served on the communist country’s broadcasting committee for about four decades. He is also known in North Korea for his numerous poems.

I previously blogged about the beer commercials (as did most other K-bloggers) and included a link to a longer 10-minute “infomercial”.

Here is the actual commercial courtesy of the BBC. Here is the commercial on YouTube (without commercial interruption).

Here is the ginseng commercial (Koryo Insam).

Here is the quail restaurant commercial.

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Italy Seizes Liquor Bound for DPRK

Monday, September 14th, 2009

According to the Choson Ilbo:

Italian customs recently confiscated 420 bottles of expensive liquor on their way to North Korea. Italian newspaper Vivere Ancona said customs in the eastern port city seized 150 bottles of brandy and 270 bottles of whisky in containers destined for North Korea at the end of last month.

The confiscation follows a UN Security Council ban on the export of arms, high technology and luxury goods to North Korea after the communist country’s nuclear test in May. The liquor is reportedly worth 12,000 euro, but the brands were not identified.

In July, Italian customs seized two luxury yachts worth W23 billion ordered by North Korea (US$1=W1,222). At the time, the order was disguised as coming from a Chinese company, but the investigation revealed it had actually been made by North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

Here is a post about the yachts.

Here is a post about DPRK weapons seized by UAE.

Read the full story here:
Italy Seizes Luxury Liquor Bound for N.Korea
The Choson Ilbo
9/14/2009

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