Archive for the ‘Companies’ Category

Ri Jong Ho, high-level defector and former official in Office 39, says North Korea gets much more oil from Russia than previously known

Saturday, July 1st, 2017

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

In a fascinating interview by Kyodo News’s Tomotaro Inoue, Ri Jong Ho, a former high-level official in Office 39 of the Korean Worker’s Party, makes several fascinating claims about the supply of fuel to North Korea:

North Korea secures up to 300,000 tons of oil products from Russia each year through Singapore-based dealers, a defector who formerly managed funds for the leadership has told Kyodo News, posing a challenge for the United States as it seeks to isolate Pyongyang.

“North Korea has procured Russia-produced fuel from Singapore brokers and others since the 1990s…It is mostly diesel oil and partly gasoline,” Ri Jong Ho, 59, a former senior official of Office 39 of the Workers’ Party of Korea, said recently in the U.S. capital in his first interview with media under his own name.

Ri also said North Korea relies more on Russia than China for fuel to keep its economy moving, indicating that the U.S. drive for Beijing to restrict oil supplies over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs will only have a limited effect.

“It is a wrong perception that North Korea is completely dependent on China,” he said.

Petroleum products have been shipped to North Korea by tankers leaving Vladivostok and Nakhodka, both in the Russian Far East, with the fuel widely used for cars, ships and trains, helping to support the North’s economy, Ri said.

Other sources familiar with the fuel deals said the petroleum products ending up in North Korea are often purchased by brokers who claim they are destined for China, with the items procured using forged paperwork.

Ri, who defected to South Korea with his family in October 2014, provided details of the activities of Office 39.

The secretive entity, said to have been established by former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in May 1974, is subject to international sanctions as the United States and other Western countries believe it is engaged in illicit economic activities and the management of slush funds for the leadership.

He said North Korea has been trying to reduce its economic reliance on China, Pyongyang’s most important benefactor, since leader Kim Jong Un issued an order to expand trade with Russia and Southeast Asian countries in August 2014.

The order followed Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to South Korea a month earlier, during which he and then South Korean President Park Geun Hye expressed opposition to North Korea’s nuclear weapons development. It was the first time for a Chinese president to visit South Korea before traveling to the North.

Ri said the North Korean leader was “infuriated” by the visit, going so far as to call China an “enemy state,” and began taking measures to boost trade with Russia.

According to Ri, Office 39 has five central groups and systematically acquires foreign currency by sending laborers overseas as well as through gold mining and exports.

“It is an organization that manages the supreme leader’s coffers and the party’s funds to rule the country. It also leads trade activities to earn foreign currency,” Ri said. The office has enormous power as it is directly linked to the leadership and is independent of other government organs, he added.

Ri admitted that Office 39 has evaded U.N. sanctions by asking Chinese and Russian contacts to allow the use of their names for the opening of bank accounts for trade settlement.

The activities of Office 39 require the involvement of hundreds of thousands of people, including those in rural areas who produce items for export. Ri said the bureau is now headed by Chon Il Chun, first vice department director of the party’s Central Committee and a former classmate of Kim Jong Il, the current leader’s father.

A native of Wonsan on North Korea’s east coast, Ri was told to work in Pyongyang by the Central Committee in the mid-1980s. He operated a shipping company at Office 39’s Daehung group and later headed a trade control section in the group between 1998 and 2004.

The Daehung group earns revenue through farm exports and shipping operations, among other means. With exclusive rights to trade “matsutake” mushrooms and snow crabs, it was actively shipping those products to Japan before Tokyo imposed a total ban on trade with the North about 10 years ago.

The four other central groups are Kumgang, which dominates gold export activities, Daesong, involved in the shipment of processed products and intermediate trade overseas, Daesong Bank, in charge of the office’s banking operations, and a group dispatching workers to other countries.

Asked about the possibility that the foreign currency earned by North Korea is being used for its nuclear and missile development programs, Ri only said, “It is up to the supreme leader how to use the funds.”

North Korea receives 500,000 tons of crude oil each year through a pipeline from China, resulting in around 70,000 to 100,000 tons of gasoline and about 100,000 tons of diesel oil after refining, but the oil products are exclusively used by the North Korean army and are not good enough for cars that carry the elite, Ri said.

He also said crude oil purchased from other countries is refined by foreign companies based in China, leading to the importation into North Korea of an additional 50,000 to 100,000 tons of gasoline.

Full article here:

N. Korea procuring Russian fuel via Singapore dealers: defector

Tomotaro Inoue

Kyodo News

 

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UK freezes KNIC assets

Monday, April 24th, 2017

According to The Guardian:

The UK has frozen the assets of a North Korean company based in south-east London after claims it funnelled cash to Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme.

The Korea National Insurance Corporation (KNIC) is registered at a property in Blackheath. The EU has already imposed sanctions against the company, which it describes as “generating substantial foreign exchange revenue which is used to support the regime in North Korea”. The move by Brussels followed an UN resolution.

The EU warned: “Those resources could contribute to the DPRK’s nuclear-related, ballistic missile-related or other weapons of mass destruction-related programmes.”

The company is registered to a detached property on Kidbrooke Park Road among suburban houses in an affluent part of London. Its entry on Companies House now describes KNIC as “closed” since 6 October 2016. Accounts show that in 2014 it had total assets of 130bn North Korean won, the equivalent of £113m.

According to EU sanctions imposed in July 2015, the KNIC’s headquarters in Pyonyang is linked to Office 39 of the Korean Workers’ party. In 2010 the US Treasury described Office 39 as “a secretive branch of the government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea that provides critical support to North Korean leadership in part through engaging in illicit economic activities and managing slush funds and generating revenues for the leadership”.

A spokesman for HM Treasury said: “We cannot comment on individual cases. However, the UK has fully complied and implemented the UN sanctions regime in relation to North Korea and North Korean companies.”

Through the EU regulations, the UK imposes restrictions on a range of goods from entering or leaving North Korea and imposes a travel ban and an asset freeze against people designated as engaging in or providing support for its programmes for weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles.

Under the same sanctions, the funds and economic resources have been frozen of four Hamburg-based North Koreans who ran the KNIC branch in Germany and two other regime officials who have since moved back to Pyongyang.

The Sunday Times, which first reported the freeze on the assets of the UK branch, reported that a North Korean man at the Blackheath property told it that the insurer’s main UK director, Ko Su-gil, had left Britain in September.

Read the full story here:
UK freezes assets of North Korean company based in south London
The Guardian
2017-4-23

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Daesong Bank launches Kumgil Card

Friday, December 16th, 2016

Simon Cockerell of Koryo Tours has posted images of a new prepay card offered by Daesong Bank (대성은행/Taesong Bank) called “Kumgil” (금길) or “Gold Road”:

The front of the card contains the brand name, logo (a diamond?), sponsoring bank name, and the phrase “electronic payment card”. I spoke with James Pearson at Reuters about the 16 digit number, and based on his research it does not appear to be directly related to the Foreign Trade Bank (FTB). Mr. Cockerell reports on his Instagram page that the card uses the same retail payment equipment as the Narae Card (which is controlled by the FTB), so that means the two banks (Daesong and FTB) have an established clearing mechanism to settle electronic balances (Q: Are other NK banks using this same equipment/part of the same network?). FTB is supposedly the official repository of the state’s hard currency reserves for the purposes of managing foreign trade and domestic hard currency transactions for imported goods, though it apparently does not have a monopoly on individual/company hard currency accounts. Daesong Bank (Taesong) is has been linked to the KWP’s Office 39.

The back of the card reads:

주의사항 (Caution)
1. 카드앞면의 전자요소가 손상되지 않도록 주의하여주십시오.
Be careful not to damage the chip on the front of the card
2. 암호를 련속 3번 틀리게 입력하면 카드의 사용이 중지됩니다.
The card will stop working if you enter the wrong password 3 times.
3. 카드를 분실한 경우에는 즉시 카드발급지점에 알려주십시오.
If you lose the card, immediately notify the branch that issued the card.
4. 기타 제기되는 문제들은 카드발급지점에 문의하여주십시오.
For any other issue, consult the branch that issued the card.

This card is apparently for hard currency purchases only, and it was launched in early 2016. It is functionally the same as the Golden Triangle Bank Electronic Payment Card, Jonsong Electronic Payment Card, KoryoBank Electronic Payment Card, Narae Electronic Payment Card, Ryugyong Commercial Bank Electronic Payment Card, and Sowol Electronic Payment Card.

I should also mention that none of these are “debit cards” since they are not linked with a specific checking (demand) deposit. These are pre-pay cards only. These cards are essentially private digital currency issued by an established bank. The bank maintains control of the hard currency used to top off the cards, which it uses to generate income (float), while the card holder gains the convenience of not having to carry cash, which does offer some security from petty crime, but makes retail transactions more observable to security agencies.

Mr. Cockerell also posted the picture of a loyalty card for the Moran Shop (“Bar”):

He reports that “every time you spend money there it’s recorded on the card and when you reach $500 equivalent in total then there’s some free gift.”

I have written about some other loyalty programs here and here.

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Foreign Trade report on Slovenian delegation

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016

According to Foreign Trade (2016 v. 2, p.7):

News from DPRK Chamber of Commerce in 2015

The DPRK Chamber of Commerce invited a delegation of the Slovenian Chamber of Commerce headed by Yan Mishra, director of the external cooperation agency, to discuss the issues related with developing nongovernmental economic exchanges and trade and investment in the Wonsan-Mt Kumgang International Tourist Zone.

During their stay the delegation exchanged opinions about the practical issues arising in realizing economic exchanges and trade between the businesses of the two countries and agreed to develop bilateral relationship and cooperation to activate non-governmental economic exchanges.

And they discussed the issues about a possible visit to Pyongyang in 2016 by a delegation of the Slovenian Chamber of Commerce comprising businesses that wish economic exchanges and trade with the DPRK and its presentation of rolling stock and electric products like tractor, timber transporter and motor generator at the forthcoming Pyongyang International Trade Fair.

Another agenda item of discussion was a possible participation by the trade companies of the DPRK in the international trade fair to be held in Slovenia in 2016 and their visit to factories in the country.

The investment policy and environment in the DPRK and the work of economic development parks like the Wonsan-Mt Kumgang International Tourist Zone were introduced, and possibilities of investment and cooperation by businesses of the two countries in these parks were discussed.

In addition, the DPRK Chamber of Commerce arranged meetings between tens of local organs like the Korean Association for the Research and Development of Greening, Plant Import and Export Company, Kumsu Corporation, Korea Titanium Development and Trading Company, Central Imports Exchange Company and members of the Slovenian delegation so that they can exchange opinions on the matters of mutual concern.

DPRK Chamber of Commerce
Add: Central District, Pyongyang, DPR Korea
Tel: 0085-02-3815926
Fax: 0085-02-3814654

Screenshot of the article here.

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Insurance products promoted to target foreign investment enterprises

Tuesday, January 26th, 2016

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

North Korea is promoting insurance products targeted at foreign-investment companies with increasing efforts to attract foreign capital through special economic zones.

On January 19, 2016, the state-run Korea National Insurance Corporation (KNIC) made an official announcement on its website on new insurance products for the economic development zones. It announced that KNIC is promoting various insurance products to protect life and property for foreign investment companies, including fire insurance and accident liability insurance for gas accidents, third party automobile liability insurance, and third party construction liability insurance.

In addition, KNIC announced that it will offer a variety of insurance products according to personal and business demands. The website elaborated, “in order to meet the growing insurance need in the economic development zones, KNIC is introducing development of various insurance products and to realize the international insurance trends and the diversification of the insurance sector to ensure the prompt insurance coverage to remain as credible institution among foreign companies.”

The KNIC first began to operate fire, automobile, gas accident liability insurances to tenant companies in the Kaesong Industrial Complex from 2005.

Meanwhile, North Korea’s Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) adopted the insurance regulation along with property regulation for the Economic Development Zone (EDZ) last July. The insurance regulation consisted of four chapters and 52 articles, but specific details were not disclosed. However, details on insurance contracts, insurance offices, as well as installation and operation of the insurance office were revealed.

Previously, North Korea enacted new EDZ laws in May 29, 2013 which guaranteed special privileges for economic activities conducted in special economic zones as specified in the law. On November 6, 2013, three EDZ Operational Regulations were adopted (management institutional regulations, establishment regulations, and business establishment and operational regulations) by the Presidium of the SPA.

This new property insurance policies and regulations appear as a new measure to ensure added legal protection to improve investment environment of foreign capital from the three existing operating regulations.

In February 2015, Ri Sun Hak, department director of the Ministry of External Economic Relations, stated in an interview with the KCNA, “Our country is fully equipped with the legal environment to protect the legitimate rights and interests of investors.” The news also depicted ‘foreign investment law,’ ‘economic development law,’ and ‘external economic arbitration law’ were newly enacted or revised. The foreign investment laws was revised to streamline investment formalities and to provide various services for foreign-investment companies.

However, the question still remains as to gauge the effectiveness of North Korea’s insurance operations. As the international community, including the UN Security Council, is likely to impose stronger sanctions to condemn North Korea’s fourth nuclear test, the solvency of North Korea’s insurance companies remains uncertain and unreliable.

In addition, the KNIC’s Germany branch and President So Tong Myong (Seo Dong-Myung) are both on the EU’s list of sanctions, which is likely to act as an impeding factor for smooth insurance operations. The EU listed six KNIC senior employees to the sanctions list subject to an EU-wide asset freeze and travel ban.

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Mansudae ODG building Angkor e-museum

Sunday, December 6th, 2015

Angkor-emueum-3

Pictured Above (Google Earth, 2012-10-26): An image of the Angkor E-Museum under construction in Siem Reap Cambodia

UPDATE 7 (2016-2-1): The Guardian publishes more information on the museum.

UPDATE 6 (2015-12-6): The museum opens! According to the Khmer Times:

After five years of building and delays, the $24 million Angkor Panorama Museum in Siem Reap was opened on Friday by Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, cementing growing ties between the Kingdom and North Korea, especially in Siem Reap.

Mr. Sok An said the 6,000 square meter building reinforced both cultural and economic ties.

The project was signed in 2011, under which North Korea’s Mansudea Overseas Project Group will run the museum with the government under a build-operate-and-transfer operation for 10 years until it is handed over to the Apsara Authority.

In the meantime, profits will be split evenly.

“We did not sell this land. We have a joint committee and we studied the investment project on all fronts before the government approved it. We treat foreign investment equally,” said Mr. Sok An.

“We need more tourist products such as this to attract visitors to Cambodia. The museum… is another tourism attraction that features, through the painting [mural] inside the museum, how our Khmer ancestors went about their daily activities during Angkorian time,” he said at the opening ceremony attended by an estimated 1,000 people, including South and North Koreans.

The project caused concern with South Korea, fearing it could be used for propaganda in the province, which is the country’s biggest tourist attraction. The Angkor Wat temple complex was listed for protection by the UN cultural organization UNESCO in 1992.

The new museumincludes work from 63 North Korean artists.

North Korean ambassador Hong Ki Chol told the crowd: “It was well built in a picturesque place, surrounded by Angkor temples – the pride of Khmers. We are proud that this museum was built to show Cambodian culture in the prestigious era of Angkor.”

“I am confident the museum will make a positive contribution to giving a comprehensive understanding of ideas about all the Angkor temples and promote tourism,” he said.

Cambodia received 4.5 million tourists last year, a 20 percent increase on the previous year and accounting for about 16 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. The Kingdom is targeting 8 million tourists by 2020.

“We want to see tourists stay longer in Cambodia,” said Mr. Sok An, who is also chairman of the Apsara Authority. ”The longer they stay, the more it benefits our people and the economy.”

UPDATE 5 (2014-6-14): The museum is still not open. According to an article in the Phnom Penh Post:

Siem Reap is home to North Korea’s first overseas museum, a $15 million tribute to Angkor set in a Khmer-style building which is not yet open to the public.

Although construction began in August 2011, the doors have still not opened and the car park has not been built.

The operations manager, who gave his name only as Kim, said the museum would open in three or four months, and blamed the delay on the unfinished car park and ticketing booth.

But sources within the South Korean community say the slow progress is due to the plan to build an information centre about the temples, which has caused a rift with the Apsara authority, which manages the complex.

UPDATE 4 (2104-1-20): It is January 2014, and the Museum still has not opened. A recent visitor, however, offers images of the museum and some details. According to the article:

The Grand Panorama Museum is a gift to cement the “glorious friendship between Korea and Cambodia”, says a young translator from Pyongyang, capital of the hermit state.

The building site is still strictly off-limits as I visit but, despite the secrecy, the man in charge relents and provides a short tour.

The museum is right next to the new ticket booths for the temple complex. The avowed aim is to take visitors back to the heyday of Khmer culture, which flourished in Angkor between the 12th and 15th centuries.

The museum’s interpretation is not so much scholarly as glitzy, with otherworldly music and coloured lights. It also showcases the North Korean style of ultra-realist painting. A huge face of the Buddha looms at the entrance.

“A true-scale copy of the stone-hewn figures at the Bayon Temple,” says the building chief. The giant painting looks remarkably like a photograph. “Exactly,” beams the official. “But it’s not a photograph – it’s Korean art.”

The big Buddha is a product of the Mansudae art factory in Pyongyang, which employs a thousand artists turning out paintings in oil, acrylic and watercolours in the “social realist” style. Abstraction is not allowed.

The panorama is viewed from a platform in the centre of a circular room. The entire wall is a single vast picture, 13 metres tall and 130 long. It depicts the many temples and everyday scenes from the 12th-century Khmer era – or at least daily life as imagined by North Korean artists.

The official word is that all the scenes were painted “following consultations with Cambodian historians”, the site supervisor is anxious to point out. The finished product is strong on battles, with lots of bloodshed.

“We have a panoramic museum like this in Pyongyang too,” says the supervisor. Is it about ancient Korean history? “No, it’s about the Americans’ war.”

The illusion of being at the centre of the Khmer empire is extended by all manner of fake walls, cannons and plastic trees between the raised platform and the panorama wall. The models carefully match the objects visible in the painted panorama.

“We will have wind and fog-making machines so that the trees will rustle,” says the young translator.

The museum also offers scale models of the sprawling temple complex and a 3D theatre where films depicting temple construction will be screened.

North Korean art is on sale in the foyer, along with cute souvenir dolls dressed in what the North Koreans say is the authentic Khmer national costume.

One huge oil painting in the shop is definitely not for sale. It depicts a snow-covered landscape in Korea’s mountains with a little hut in the foreground highlighted by a shaft of sunlight.

“That is the birthplace of our Great Leader,” the supervisor says reverently. “The picture is here on loan.” The late North Korean founding father Kim Il-sung is revered like a god.

The article offers some pictures as well:

Angkor-emuseum-1

Angkor-emuseum-2

UPDATE 3 (2013-1-8): NK News explains some of the features the museum will contain and reports that it will open in April 2013.

UPDATE 2 (2011-11-26): Accoridng to AKP (Cambodia):

Cambodia has allowed the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to build a cultural information centre (or welcome centre) in Siem Reap, the home of Angkor, as part of the government’s effort to attract more tourists, according to the Press and Quick Reaction Unit of the Council of Ministers.

In a meeting on Thursday, Deputy Prime Minister H.E. Dr. Sok An told the North Korean Ambassador H.E. Ri In Sok that Cambodia’s Apsara Authority is working with North Korean experts to build the centre, which will serve as a welcome centre for tourists who want information about Cambodia’s Angkorian history.

Officials of the Apsara Authority for the Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap are working with 60 Korean experts and concerned institutions to ensure that the building design will feature the cultural values of both Cambodia and Korea.

The building, 70 metres in diameter and 124 metres in height, will be decorated with artistic works and drawings. Korean officials say that the world’s biggest artistic drawing will be displayed at the centre.

Dr. Sok An, who is also Minister in Charge of the Office of the Council of Ministers, told the ambassador that the centre will represent not only the image of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea but also the good bilateral relations of the two Asian nations.

The outgoing North Korean Ambassador Ri In Sok, who is leaving Cambodia on Nov. 26 after a four-year term, told Dr. Sok An that North Korea wants unification with South Korea as soon as possible.

The ambassador was grateful to the deputy prime minister and the Royal Government of Cambodia as a whole for facilitating his diplomatic mission in Cambodia.

“I am pleased with the bilateral cooperation. I am pleased with the tremendous progress made by Cambodia over the past years,” said Ambassador Ri In Sok in the meeting.

The ambassador said the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea continues its good relations with the Royal Government of Cambodia thanks to the diplomatic legacy of the relations between His Majesty King Norodom Sihanouk, now retired, and the late Kim Il-Sung, leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Additional information:

1. Voice of America also picked up this story

2. NK Leadership Watch also covered the story.

3. The Mansudae Overseas Development Group (MODG) is also building/has already built an e-museum in Siem REap. Learn more here.

4. Here are previous posts on the DPRK and Cambodia.

UPDATE 1 (2011-8-3): Construction is underway on the project.  According to the Global Post:

A wall of royal blue sheet metal obscures the North Koreans’ operation from public view. When I approached the entrance, a man in a fedora and a tank top rushed over to slam the gate shut. A furtive look inside revealed fewer than a dozen scrawny workers and a scrub grass field still void of much construction.

Though local reports vary, North Korea will be paid between $10 and $17 million for some sort of monument or museum near the temples. The head of Cambodia’s culture ministry, Khem Sarith, confirmed construction of an “e-museum” but could not confirm the cost.

Nor could he explain why a country that offers its citizens scant electricity should win an “electronic museum” contract, especially after its monuments abroad have drawn both condemnation and ridicule.

The full story is well worth reading here:
North Korea propaganda unit builds monuments abroad
Global Post
Patrick Winn
2011-8-3

ORIGINAL POST (2010-4-27): According to the AFP (Via the Straits Times in Singapore):

A controlversial North Korean construction company is in talks to build an ‘e-museum’ of Cambodia’s famed Angkor temples, a senior official said on Monday.

Mansudae Overseas Projects wants to build a museum close to the temple complex that will feature a computer-generated simulation of the ancient monuments, Cambodian Culture Ministry secretary of state Khem Sarith told AFP.

‘They have plans to build an electronic museum detailing the history of Angkor Wat temples,’ he said, adding he supported the plans after discussions last week with a company delegation and North Korean ambassador Ri In Sok.

Previous work by the North Korean company building major monuments in African countries has been criticised for lack of transparency. Its 49-metre bronze Monument for the African Renaissance has caused outrage in Senegal over the sale of government land to finance the project and the president’s plan to keep 35 per cent of any profit it generates.

Mr Khem Sarith said the so-called e-museum would be ‘good for tourists to view the temples and then select the one that they want to see’. Studies and more discussion were still needed before construction could start on the digitally-rendered overview, Khem Sarith said. He said he would meet again with officials from the company in June to discuss the project further.

The 12th century Angkor Wat temple complex is Cambodia’s main tourist attraction. It is located in the northwestern province of Siem Reap, where the ancient Khmer empire built some 1,000 temples spread over 160 square kilometres.

I have pretty extensive list of Mansudae Overseas Development Group projects from across the planet.  If you are aware of a North Korean built project in your country, please let me know.

(Thanks to a reader)

Read the full story here:
‘e-museum’ of Angkor temples
AFP (Straits Times)
4/26/2010
John Cosgrove

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Growth of ‘knowledge economy’ in the Kim Jong Un era

Thursday, November 19th, 2015

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

According to a report published by the Science and Technology Policy Institute (STEPI), since the beginning of his rule, Kim Jong Un has clarified the ‘knowledge economy’ as important as he actively restructures the science and technology system, promotes the high-tech industry, expands education, and boosts the morale of scientists and technicians.

The report, entitled ‘Changes and Implications of the Science and Technology Policy in the Kim Jong Un Era,’ noted that in contrast with the extensive purging of key officials like Jang Song Thaek and Hyon Yong Chol, North Korea’s scientific world has received considerable preferential treatment and is heading the development of the North Korean-style ‘knowledge economy.’

Since coming to power, Kim has pursued a number of projects favoring scientists, including Unha Scientists Street, Wisong Scientists Residential District, and Mirae (‘Future’) Scientists Street. He has also provided private housing to teaching faculty at Kim Il Sung University and Kim Chaek University of Technology.

As a result, more and more researchers are receiving significantly more than just their salaries. At the same time, North Korea is restructuring the R&D system, establishing research centers, extending on-site support for production, and creating for-profit companies.

The report also explained that the regime is continuing efforts pursued during the Kim Jong Il regime, such as the five-year technological development plan, the expansion of computer numerical control (CNC), and the use of the Internet. As it does so, it is pushing forward new endeavors like the establishment of the ‘Science and Technology Hall,’ cyber education, cyber healthcare, and the expansion of electronic payments. Thus, it is improving the level of informatization in North Korea.

“Like the science and technology-centered politics of Kim Jong Il, the Kim Jong Un regime has stressed science and technology in its pursuit of a knowledge economy because it recognizes the importance of this field in building a strong nation and solving the energy and food problems facing the country,” the report claimed.

In particular, around the 60th anniversary of North Korea’s National Academy of Science in December 2012, the regime embarked on an extensive reorganization of the academy. Major targets of the reorganization included the biotechnology and energy fields (critical fields to solving the food issue); high-tech fields like information technology (IT), nanotechnology, and automation; as well as the environmental sector and high-return sector.

In addition, in the beginning of 2015 North Korea dissolved its top software development agency, Korea Computer Center (KCC), leaving only the organization that develops the ‘Red Star’ computer operating system and reorganizing the whole agency as a profitmaking organization. Moreover, in the 4th Five-Year Plan (2013-2017) for scientific and technological development, solving the food and energy issues was emphasized more than in the past.

The report also mentioned the development of tablet PCs and the spread of electronic commercial transactions. In the summer of 2012, North Korea launched three tablet PC models called Samjiyon, Arirang, and Achim. Since then, more models like Woollim, Ryongheung, and Noul have been rolled out. Regarding electronic payments, the use of debit cards like the Narae card, which requires a 4-digit pin number and can be recharged at various shops and hotels, is spreading rapidly.

In regards to these changes, the report stated, “Kim Jong Un’s science and technology policies reflect North Korea’s industrial setting and private demand and are more rational as they correspond with international trends.” However, the report argued that support for key industries is shrinking, and their ability to survive on their own is insufficient. Given the difficulty of establishing a virtuous cycle of investment and profit calculation under the current policies, it concluded that the sustainability of these policies is low.

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North Korea promotes French investment in cement company

Thursday, September 10th, 2015

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

North Korea recently promoted its cooperation with foreign companies, highlighting a North Korean cement company that has received investment from a French corporation. This is viewed as a strategy by North Korea to attract foreign investment by publicizing examples of foreign capital in the country.

On September 1, 2015, North Korea uploaded an article on its foreign website ‘Naenara’ promoting the Pyongyang Sangwon Cement Joint Venture, which the French cement company Lafarge has invested in. President of the company Yun Chae Hyok was quoted as saying, “Through each other’s efforts the company is raising the quality of cement by expediting the modernization of the production process as well as increasing production to contribute actively to the country’s primary construction targets.”

Regarding the Sangwon Cement Joint Venture, the Naenara article stated, “The quality of limestone is good, the reserves are plentiful, and from a transportation perspective, the location is good […] The production process is automated, and the company is using supplementary materials, including limestone, in production, so the outlook is very good.” The article also introduced the company Lafarge. “The French building materials company Lafarge, which has more than 200 cement factories, is a corporation that specializes in the production of cement and plaster as well as aggregate and concrete,” it explained.

Naenara also reported that in 2014 the joint venture company built ‘Affiliate Furnace No. 1,’ and according to a decision made by the board of directors in June 2015, next year it will complete construction of ‘Affiliate Furnace No. 2.’ It is believed that North Korea’s intent in promoting the Sangwon Cement Joint Venture is to attract investment from other foreign companies by publicizing examples of foreign capital in the country.

The Pyongyang Sangwon Cement Joint Venture was created when Lafarge invested in North Korea’s Sangwon Cement Complex. In 2007 the Egyptian company Orascom, which is currently invested in North Korea’s Koryolink, acquired 50% of the shares in Sangwon Cement and prepared to invest in the company, but in December of that year it passed its shares and the related mining rights to Lafarge. At the time Lafarge commented, “Given the rapidly growing demand for cement in North Korea, the potential for Sangwon Cement Factory is large.” The company went on to update factory equipment and expand investment in machinery and facilities.

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How the North Korean media describes a market

Tuesday, August 25th, 2015

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

A recent brief from IFES (08-07-2015) details how an article in the North Korean newspaper Tongil Ilbo describes sales at Kwangbok market in Pyongyang (emphasis added):

According to the Tongil Ilbo, there are now a number of local products sold at Pyongyang’s Kwangbok Area Supermarket, which was built in October 1991. “By achieving the informatization and computerization of all business activities, from warehousing to the sale of goods, the Kwangbok Area Supermarket guarantees accuracy and speed in its service. It is a commercial service center managed to guarantee the maximum convenience of its customers,” North Korea’s independent newspaper reported on July 11, 2015.

It explained that the Kwangbok Area Supermarket, which has a total floor area of 12,700 m2, sells household products, electronics, general textile products, and grocery products such as confectioneries on every floor. In addition, each North Korean brand is sold in the relevant department, including brands such as ‘Ryongmasan,’ ‘Kuryonggang,’ ‘Kumkop,’ ‘Hwawon,’ ‘Mirae,’ ‘Songchon,’ and ‘Bommaji.’

Located on the first floor, the grocery department displays local products produced by factories like the Pyongyang Flour Processing Factory, the Kumsong Food Factory, and the Kumkop General Foodstuff Factory for Sportspersons. “People like to purchase locally-produced products […] In the future public service networks like the Kwangbok Area Supermarket will emerge in other places as well,” the newspaper reported.

Kim Song Won, manager of the Kwangbok Area Supermarket, commented, “With the unprecedented growth of the country’s self-sustaining economic foundation, there is greater demand among the people for variety and quality in their products […] Accordingly, we are bringing in many domestic products and are working to provide services so that customers can purchase products that they like.”

Several things in this report are interesting to note. For example, while I am not sure that the market-oriented language is itself anything new in North Korean media lingo, the emphasis is striking. It is consumer preference that matters. Variety is considered important, not just the quality of the products. Again, Kim Il-sung too I believe talked about the importance of quality, but here it’s a matter of producing what people like, rather than what they need.

Read the full text:

IFES Kyungnam

Surge in Local Product Sales at Kwangbok Area Supermarket

08-07-2015

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DPRK insurance market updates

Monday, August 17th, 2015

UPDATE 2 (2015-10-23): The Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES) reports on additional developments in the DPRK’s insurance industry:

North Korean Insurance Company to Expand Insurance Offerings

On October 14, 2015, the state-owned North Korean insurance company, Korean National Insurance Corporation (KNIC), promoted its ongoing insurance programs at the Kaesong Industrial Complex, revealing that it will offer more types of insurance if North-South economic cooperation expands in the future.

As North Korea’s market economy has expanded under the Kim Jong Un regime, insurance aimed at the ‘protection of assets’ has also increased.

“In order to actively ensure joint economic development projects between the North and South using the economic space of insurance, in 2005 we started insuring the assets of businessmen from the South who come to the Kaesong Industrial Region,” KNIC announced on its homepage on October 14.

The company explained, “The types of insurance currently implemented are fire insurance, car insurance, and gas accident liability insurance […] In the future several insurance sectors will grow further commensurate with the increasing variety and expansion of North-South economic cooperation projects.”

The company emphasized that in the future it will offer insurance programs more practical for South Korean businesses at the Kaesong Industrial Complex.

KNIC has also recently introduced new insurance products covering things like cell phones and fruit orchards.

However, Kaesong companies have reportedly not been enthusiastic about the products offered by KNIC. Not only is it difficult to trust the ability of North Korean insurance companies to pay out insurance money in the case of an insurance claim, but the insurance money itself is small. As a result, South Korean companies at Kaesong have been reluctant to enroll.

Meanwhile, KNIC revealed that it is strengthening its fire insurance services in accordance with North Korea’s recent construction of a number of new buildings such as the Masikryong Ski Resort, the Mirim Horse Riding Club, and the Pyongyang Sunan International Airport terminal.

“As we work to realize fire insurance guarantees of newly built or remodeled buildings in a timely manner, we are ensuring that insured companies are equipped with fire alarms and fire extinguishing facilities and experience improvements in risk management,” the insurance company declared.

It added, “We are also bringing in internationally recognized appraisal companies along with domestic appraisers to make sure that risk assessments of new insurance subjects proceed normally on-site.”

UPDATE 1 (2015-8-20): The Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES) reports on developments in the DPRK’s insurance market:

New Insurance Products Appearing in North Korea

All sorts of insurance products, such as cell phone insurance and insurance against damage to fruit farms, are starting to appear in North Korea.

The Korea National Insurance Corporation (the state insurance company representing North Korea), revealed on its website on August 12, 2015 that the issue of cell phone insurance was discussed at the annual general meeting of provincial governors held in Pyongyang in February 2015.

“At last year’s meeting, provincial governors from all over, including Pyongyang, North Hamgyong Province, Yanggang Province, and Jagang Province, met and introduced new areas of business such as cell phone insurance. They discussed increasing the number of insurance policy holders and expanding coverage to raise insurance premium revenue,” the insurance company reported.

Recently, as the number of cell phone owners shoots up, the instances of lost or damaged phones have also risen. It appears that this new form of insurance is being offered against this backdrop to compensate cell phone owners for such incidents. As in South Korea, it is not yet mandatory for North Korean cell phone owners to purchase cell phone insurance.

Currently, North Korea’s primary mobile carrier, the Egyptian firm Orascom, owns a 75% share in North Korea’s mobile communications company Koryo Link. As of the end of June 2014, the company had 2.4 million cell phone subscribers in North Korea.

The Korea National Insurance Corporation is also preparing to offer insurance for fruit trees in order to compensate owners of fruit farms for damage caused by natural disasters or other events.

The company explained the background behind offering this insurance product on their homepage. According to the website, since Kim Jong Un came to power, a lot of effort has been put into the development of agriculture and fruit farms, but due to recent abnormal climate phenomena like El Niño, these fields have experienced a lot of difficulties.

The website reveals, “Based on experience accumulated in the testing phase, we plan on offering insurance coverage within several years for modern, large-scale fruit farms like Taedong River Integrated Fruit Farm and Kangwon Province’s Kosan Fruit Farm.”

In order to do this, the company has been performing risk appraisals since 2013 with international damage appraisers for each of the fruit farms. This suggests that it is keeping foreign reinsurance companies and contracts in mind.

The company offers fruit farms insurance coverage for a variety of calamities and natural disasters. It covers fruit trees in the event of drought, landslides, or fire; fruit in the event of hail, drought, excessive moisture, extreme heat, or fire; and the quality of fruit in the event of hail, heavy rain, or storms.

The provision of insurance for fruit farms is seen as an extension of North Korea’s ongoing efforts to earn foreign currency through insurance companies.

The fact that various insurance products are appearing in North Korea has attracted attention in the context of North Korea’s recent economic developments. Since Kim Jong Un came to power, the regime has tried to recognize and protect private property as the market economy has expanded through the growth of companies’ independent management rights and the expansion of private profits. Especially in the case of insurance companies, it is believed that the regime is trying to maximize profits by generating additional income through insurance premiums.

ORIGINAL POST (2015-8-17): Elizabeth Shim reports the following at UPI:

On Tuesday, Pyongyang’s Korea National Insurance Corp. posted on its website information on annual meetings held in each province. Issues of mobile phone insurance were discussed during the meetings, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported.

The North Korean insurance firm said in statement that new businesses were being introduced to meet the increased demand for mobile phone insurance in Pyongyang and the provinces, South Korean television network SBS reported.

The mobile phone is becoming a central component of everyday life for many North Koreans, particularly for merchants who are on the road to sell wares around the country – but damage or loss of phones are raising the demand for insurance in the country.

Egyptian firm Orascom owns a 75 percent stake in North Korea’s main network, Koryolink, and offers services to 2.4 million North Koreans.

Other insurance mentioned include new policies for agriculture and protection plans for large-scale fruit farms by the Taedong River and in Kangwon province are being assembled, according to North Korea. The plans would provide protection against weather effects like “El Nino,” that is resulting in increased drought, torrential rain, high temperatures and other factors that are hurting crops.

The Korea National Insurance Corporation web page is here. Here are the two specific reports mentioned in the article:

Annual conference of provincial KNIC branches held

The annual conference of provincial branches of Korea National Insurance Corporation was held in Pyongyang on February 25th and 26th.

It was attended by head-office officials concerned and branch managers, and accountants thereof, of different provinces.

Its agenda involved review of last year’s insurance operations conducted by the provincial branches, and determination of their goals to be reached this year.

Great appreciation was shown in the conference for the branches including the ones in Pyongyang, North Hamgyong Province, Ryanggang and Jagang Provinces, all of which, last year, introduced new insurance products, like mobile phone insurance, into sale, and brought an increase in the number of the insureds and objects to result a rise in premium income, and made prompt indemnifications on a scientific basis thus contributing to the stabilization of operation, production of the insureds concerned and people’s lives, as well.

Stress was laid on adoption and development of effective business strategies plus further improvement and intensification of insurance operation upholding the slogan reading “ Let us all turn out in the general offensive to hasten final victory in the revolutionary spirit of Paektu!”, thus enhancing the role of insurance in line with the development of national economy and improvement of the livelihood of the people as befitting the significance of the year marking the 70th founding anniversary of the Workers’ Party of Korea.

Lectures were given on business practices involving accountancy and some insurance accounts during the conference.

Fruit Crop Insurance to be introduced in future

According to a far-reaching plan of Chairman Kim Jong Il and supreme leader Kim Jong Un to supply the people with fresh fruit in and out of season, Taedonggang Combined Fruit Farm had been built as the best integrated base for fruit production, keeping production going on a high level, and furthermore, Kosan Fruit Farm has been expanded as a large-scale fruit farm with the introduction of scientific, intensive and modernized methods into fruit production.

At present, the farms have boosted production by applying the densely planting method of dwarf fruit trees following the world-wide trend of fruit farming development and growing several kinds of fruit trees including high-grade apple, pear and peach as befits the specific conditions of our country.

They grow apple trees of Korean original varieties such as Hwangju, Pukchong and Unryul together with dwarf apple trees of more than a hundred of varieties including Granny Smith, Fuji and Golden Delicious,and meet their own demand for young saplings by growing them on their own.

However, there have frequently occurred abnormal weather phenomena due to El Nino in recent years, causing negative effects on agriculture and fruit farming in our country and its surrounding countries.

As far as fruit farming is so greatly influenced by the nature and terrain and weather conditions as agriculture, Korea National Insurance Corporation (KNIC) has intention of newly underwriting insurance contracts with fruit farms in our country so as to put production on a normal basis under the adverse weather conditions recently occurred.

The subject matter insured under Fruit Crop Insurance shall be fruit and fruit trees cultivated by fruit farms in DPRK, and the covered risks are as follows;

– Yield Loss Coverage

Drought, freezing, landslide, fire,

– Fruit Tree Loss Coverage

Hail, drought, excessive moisture, extreme heat, fire,

– Quality Loss Coverage

Hail, torrential rainfall and windstorm.

In 2013, KNIC conducted a risk survey on some fruit farms in our country in cooperation with international loss adjusters, and since then KNIC has underwritten insurance contracts with those farms.

KNIC, on the basis of practical experience gained at that pilot stage, shall cover against the risks mentioned above modernized and large-scale fruit farms including Taedonggang Combined Fruit Farm and Kosan Fruit Farm within a few years to come.

Although KNIC has a dubious history, today the group still posts regular financial information which (if accurate) would make it one of the most financially transparent organizations in the DPRK (Congrats to them for at least trying). See tables here, here, and here.

Previous posts on the Korean National Insurance Corporation here.

Once they figure out crop insurance, the next step should be a commodity futures market!

Read the full UPI story here:
North Korea to provide insurance for drought, lost phones
UPI
Elizabeth Shim
2015-8-12

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