Archive for the ‘Companies’ Category

DPRK Money laundering in Guangdong

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

According to to the Joongang Ilbo:

It was the end of March, about 20 days after the United Nations Security Council adopted resolution No. 2094 punishing North Korea for its third nuclear weapons test with new sanctions. At a newly built, modern-style train station in this southeastern Chinese city bordering Macau, three North Koreans in black suits with badges bearing the portrait of former leader Kim Jong-il appeared in the early evening. From the station they carried a large and obviously heavy gunny sack to a sedan parked about 30 meters (0.18 miles) away. They all got in and pulled away.

Two hours later, the sedan arrived at a high-rise building in Menggang district, Guangdong Province. Inside was an office of a private loan shark.

They entered the office on the seventh floor. One of the visitors, a middle-aged North Korean who spoke fluent Cantonese, greeted a Chinese man whom he called “Russelle.”

The North Korean dragged the sack to Russelle and opened it. Inside were bundles of U.S. banknotes. Russelle handed them to his underling and ordered him to count them with a banknote-counting machine.

After the total was confirmed, the North Korean withdrew a piece of paper with bank account numbers written on it. As in a thriller movie, Russelle began electronic banking transactions on a computer. He divvied up the total amount of cash among the accounts, sending set amounts to each. The total amount transferred: $2 million.

For helping in the money-laundering, Russelle was to receive 15 percent of the $2 million. In more urgent situations, his commission rises to 30 percent.

Several sources familiar with loan sharks in Guangzhou described these scenes to the JoongAng Sunday. The North Koreans were allegedly officials working for the Kwangson Banking Group, an affiliate of North Korea’s state-run Foreign Trade Bank, the country’s primary foreign exchange bank. The North Korean who led the shady business with Russelle was Kim Kwi-chol, head of the Kwangson branch in Zhuhai.

North Korea has, sources say, conducted illicit activities like money-laundering through Kwangson’s branches in Zhuhai and Dandong, and it is playing a role for Pyongyang similar to that of Macau’s Banco Delta Asia’s after 2005, when sanctions brought its business to a halt.

According to “Recent Financial Activities of North Korea,” a report by Kim Gwang-jin, a defector-turned-researcher at the Institute for National Security Strategy under the National Intelligence Service, Kwangson Bank is in charge of slush funds used by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, money-laundering and remittances from banks sanctioned by the U.S. or UN Security Council.

The U.S. Treasury Department froze U.S. assets of the Kwangson Banking Corporation and prohibited U.S. citizens from doing business with the group in August 2009, accusing it of aiding the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Last March, it said the Foreign Trade Bank was covered by executive order No. 13382, freezing all of its U.S. assets and prohibiting U.S. financial institutions from doing business with it. In May, the Bank of China said it would stop all dealings with it.

But an expert in international finance told the JoongAng Sunday in April, “The sanctions taken by the U.S. Treasury Department against North Korea has no effect in regard to the Foreign Trade Bank.”

The head of the Zhuhai branch of Kwangson, Kim Kwi-chol, was allegedy born in Hoeyang, Kangwon Province in the North, on Nov. 19, 1955. In April 1984, he started work at the Foreign Trade Bank of North Korea and worked in a branch of the bank in China in the late 1990s, and in Libya during the mid-2000s. He moved to the branch in Zhuhai on April 13, 2003.

Sources said Kim is in charge of delivering slush funds to Kim Jong-un and other members of his elite inner circle. He’s also in charge of some large-scale money-laundering, taking advantage of Zhuhai bordering Macau. He is fluent in Cantonese and Mandarin with working experience in China for more than 10 years as a financial expert. He is allegedly living with his wife Pak Yong-hui, 57, in Zhuhai.

“He is a person who is always vigilant,” researcher Kim said.

An official investigating North Korea’s businesses in Zhuhai said, “We have recently confirmed that there are five workers and Kim Kwi-chol in the branch [in Zhuhai]. The amount of money the branch is dealing with is about $3 billion won a year, which is a bit less than that of the branch in Dandong in Liaoning Province.”

“Since Banco Delta Asia was frozen in 2005, North Korea’s funds are going through Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Zhuhai,” an official in Macau said on the condition of anonymity.

On April 30, a JoongAng Sunday reporter visited a residential complex in Zhuhai, where several sources alleged the Kwangson Banking Group’s Zhuhai branch was located. The complex was composed of three separate apartment buildings with a front gate that required a security code for entrance. The JoongAng Sunday reporter sneaked into the complex when some residents punched in their codes.

However, when the reporter reached the office of Kwangson, there was no sign on its door. Although the reporter pressed the doorbell, no one answered. A security guard at the building said: “I have not heard of Kwangson Banking Group.”

Sources said the office kept as low a profile as possible. A resident of the complex who has seen the office said, “It’s not that large with several workers at the desks looking at financial terminals. The atmosphere was bleak.”

“Recently, the Hong Kong financial authorities launched a probe into Kwangson bank’s branch in Zhuhai, on suspicion of starting a shell company in Hong Kong under a fake name and working on money-laundering,” an official at a corporate intelligence service in Hong Kong said.

The official said the company was registered to a woman who doesn’t live in Hong Kong but in mainland China. Starting several years ago, more than $100 billion has been remitted to her accounts, raising suspicions she could be connected to the Kwansgon branch in Zhuhai.

A similar front company, Leader (Hong Kong) International Trading Company, was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department in January.

“Since the incident with Banco Delta Asia, most North Koreans staying in Macau left due to tightened supervision of money-laundering,” a source said. “However, they still had to keep in touch with their clients and partners in Macau, so they chose Zhuhai, bordering Macau, as an alternative.”

Currently, North Korea’s two major state-run banks are its Central Bank and the Foreign Trade Bank. The Foreign Trade Bank is in charge of foreign currency.

Although the Kwangson Banking Group officially belongs to the Foreign Trade Bank, in fact, it is a special organization that deals with foreign currency that is dubbed the “revolution fund.” The bank’s other name is Bureau 711.

“Kwangson Banking Group is a special financial organization in charge of slush funds of the Kim family under the direct control of Kim Kyung-hui, younger sister of the late leader Kim Jong-il,” Kim Gwang-jin said. “The group’s branch in Dandong was founded in September 2002 and another one in Macau was moved to Zhuhai after the problems with Banco Delta Asia starting in 2005.”

“After Banco Delta Asia, the foreign currency business of normal North Korean banks was paralyzed, but the Kwangson Banking Group has led the money-laundering business with the full support of the North Korean elite.”

Kim said there are three financial experts specializing in foreign currency in North Korea – Ri Tong-rim, president of the Kwangson Banking Group, Kim Kwi-chol, head of the Zhuhai branch and Ri Il-su, head of the Dandong branch.

Ri, the 57-year-old executive, was born in Songgan County, Chagang Province. He started as a manager at the Foreign Trade Bank in 1980 and became president of the 711 Bureau, the Kwangson bank, in 2004.

“When the Soviet Union collapsed, he collaborated with the Russian mafias and successfully withdrew $4.5 million from a bank in the USSR,” Kim said.

Ri Il-su, head of the bank’s Dandong branch, is assumed to be in his mid-50s. He was a vice president of the Foreign Trade Bank’s branch in Zhuhai and vice president of the 711 Bureau in the mid-1990s.

In June 2006, he signed an agreement with the China Construction Bank’s branch in Dandong over founding a joint bank in a border region between China and North Korea. The joint bank is in charge of foreign currency in three provinces in northeastern China.

“Under the agreement, if the Dandong branch remits money to a local bank in the three provinces first, then the Chinese bank resends the money to another bank in China or a third country for money-laundering,” Kim said. “Although the Bank of China or other major banks ban North Koreans opening accounts, other small-scale banks allow it.”

The Kwangson bank reportedly has a branch in Shenzhen, southern China, but its head is unknown.

“In the financial sector in Hong Kong, it’s said that Kwangson bank’s Zhuhai branch is earning big profits through gold investment, stock transactions and foreign exchange,” an official at a croporate intelligence service in Hong Kong, said. “A rumor says that when North Korea shelled the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong in November 2010, the branch bought a bunch of stocks of South Korean companies whose prices drastically dropped because of the shelling and made huge profits.”

“It is really urgent to stop the illicit activities of these North Koreans in China,” a South Korean government official said. “It is actually impossible to impose effective sanctions against North Korea without the full help of the Chinese government.”

Read the full story here:
North money laundering done in Guangdong
Joongang Ilbo
Ahn Sung-kyoo
2013-6-5

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North Korea promoting extensively for the international product exhibition

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2013-5-30

North Korea currently under robust international sanctions has put on extensive advertising campaign for the recent International Product Exhibition [Spring International Trade Fair] held in Pyongyang.

A week has passed since the 16th Pyongyang International Spring Product Exhibition (May 13-16), but the Choson Sinbo, the bulletin of the Japan-based Chosen Soren, continues to run daily articles on the products displayed in the exhibition.

The products displayed at the Pyongyang International Spring Product Exhibition, which is North Korea’s largest trade exhibition, provided a peak at the country’s current industrial trends. Moreover, this year’s exhibition introduced a number of products which are used in the daily lives of North Koreans.

The (North) Korean United Trading Company exhibited over fifty categories of products including colored metal products and a variety of lubricants and ball bearings. Groups including the Sungri Economic Trade Alliance, the State of the Art Technology Development and Exchange Center, the (North) Korean Hard Glass Company, the Pyongjin Bicycle Joint Venture Company, etc. entered products which contribute to improving the lives of North Koreans. The Chosun Sinbo introduced various new products displayed at the exhibition, including shoes was introduced which treats athlete’s foot and dissipates odors with substances such as nano silver as well as complex lactic acid products and other pharmaceutical products made at the Pyongchon Koryo Pharmaceutical Factory.

North Korea also focused on advertisement for automobiles and electronics. Pyonghwa Motors introduced over 30 new models at the exhibition, with the increase in demand. It also boasted that the new models were equipped with lower fuel consumption, reduced by two-thirds.

North Korean media also praised computer products introduced by the (North) Korean Computer Center for its rise in popularity and international competitiveness. The Ryongak Computation Information and Technology Exchange Center introduced a new tablet PC which it dubbed the ‘Yongheung.’ It was reported that buyers welcomed the site for portable profile projectors which had TVs for viewing and allowed for comfortable exhibition of mass media materials.

To overcome the current international sanctions imposed on North Korea, the exhibition is likely to be intended to increase its economic cooperation with the outside world. On May 22, the Chosun Sinbo reported that despite the United States-led economic sanctions on North Korea, many foreign enterprises participated in the exhibition in the hopes of expanding trade with North Korea. It highlighted that the Rason Comet Trade Corporation which is located in China and North Korea’s joint Rason Special Economic District, participated this year for the first time in the Pyongyang International Spring Merchandise Exhibition. The article explained that the Rason Comet Trade Corporation is exporting clothing including t-shirts and athletic wear to Indonesia, Thailand, China, etc. Pyonghwa Motors which exhibited 36 varieties of cars, passenger vans, and buses at the outdoor exhibition center, benefited from meetings with several foreign companies as well as North Korean trade and economic agencies.

The 16th annual Pyongyang Spring Product Exhibition was held from the 13th to 16th of this month and companies from North Korea, Germany, Malaysia, Mongolia, Switzerland, Singapore, Australia, Italia, Indonesia, China, Poland, and Taiwan participated at the event with various products including machineries, electronics, light industry, foods, medical, and chemicals.

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Kiribati issued passports to North Korean

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

According to the Choson Ilbo:

The tiny South Pacific island nation of Kiribati issued passports to North Korean businessmen until 2004 as a “means of generating revenue,” its president has admitted.

There had been speculation for some time that North Koreans engaged in illicit activities such as arms deals were illegally obtaining passports from small countries.

Appearing recently on Australian radio, Kiribati President Anote Tong said he was embarrassed that the passports were reportedly related to international crime. “I can assure you that we had corrected that situation in 2004 when we stopped issuing these passports,” he said.

Late last year, a Japanese activist group said two agents from North Korea, Han Chol [한철] and Ju Ok-hui [주억희), used passports issued by Kiribati and the Seychelles.

They are board members of North Korea’s Tongsin International Trading Corporation, an agency suspected of illegally exporting weapons to Burma and other countries, the group added.

Both Han and Ju were given passports by the Kiribati government in 1996 and by the Seychelles in 2007. The countries reportedly sold passports to foreign businessmen but abandoned the practice due to mounting worries about illicit activities.

A Foreign Ministry official in Seoul said, “Kiribati has been neutral since it won independence from the U.K. in 1979. “It would have been easier for the North Korean agents to travel with those passports rather than with North Korean ones.”

Read the full story here:
South Pacific Island Admits Selling Passports to N.Koreans
Choson Ilbo
2013-3-13

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US imposes new sanctions on DPRK

Monday, March 11th, 2013

These new sanctions are in response to the DPRK’s third nuclear test. Here is a link to information on UNSC resolution 2094, which the UNSC passed in response to the same test.

Here is the full statement by the Treasury Department:

___________________

Treasury Sanctions Bank and Official Linked to North Korean Weapons of Mass Destruction Programs 3/11/2013

​WASHINGTON – To impede North Korea’s ballistic missile and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs, the U.S. Department of the Treasury today designated the Foreign Trade Bank (FTB), North Korea’s primary foreign exchange bank, pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13382, which targets proliferators of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and their supporters. Treasury is also designating Paek Se-Bong, the chairman of North Korea’s Second Economic Committee (SEC) under E.O. 13882.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile proliferation activities violate the UN Security Council regime, comprised of resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), and 2094 (2013), destabilize the region, and undermine the global nonproliferation regime. The international community has condemned North Korea’s WMD proliferation activity, most recently in last week’s UN Security Council Resolution 2094. Today’s designations of FTB and a senior member of the North Korean government linked to the DPRK missile program, follow actions taken March 7, 2013 by the Treasury Department against China-based representatives of the Korea Mining Development Corporation (KOMID) and Tanchon Commercial Bank (TCB).

“North Korea uses FTB to facilitate transactions on behalf of actors linked to its proliferation network, which is under increasing pressure from recent international sanctions. The United States will take strong measures to protect its financial system from this type of illicit activity, and we urge financial institutions around the world to be particularly wary of the risks of doing business with FTB,” said Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen.

The U.S. Department of State is today also designating Pak To-Chun, Chu Kyu-Chang, and O Kuk-Ryol. To view the release, click here.

By designating FTB, the Treasury Department is targeting a key financial node in North Korea’s WMD apparatus, and cutting it off from the U.S. financial system. FTB is a state-owned bank established in 1959. FTB acts as North Korea’s primary foreign exchange bank and has provided key financial support to the Korea Kwangson Banking Corporation (KKBC). KKBC was designated under E.O. 13382 in August 2009 for providing financial services in support of the previously designated entities TCB and the Korea Hyoksin Trading Corporation (Hyoksin). Hyoksin used its connections to KKBC to purchase dual-use equipment in 2008.

FTB has also facilitated millions of dollars in transactions that have benefited KOMID—North Korea’s premier arms dealer—and its financial arm, TCB. North Korea’s Second Economic Committee oversees the production of North Korea’s ballistic missiles and directs the activities of KOMID. TCB, KOMID and Hyoskin were designated by the UNSCR 1718 Committee in April 2009.

Paek Se-Bong is the chairman of the SEC. The SEC, which oversees the production of North Korea’s ballistic missiles and directs the activities of KOMID, was previously designated by the U.S. State Department in August 2010. Paek Se Bong is also an alternate member of the Central Committee of North Korea’s Workers Party and a member North Korea’s National Defense Commission.

This designation generally prohibits transactions between the designees and any U.S. person, and freezes any assets they may have under U.S. jurisdiction.

Identifying information:

Name: Foreign Trade Bank of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
AKA: North Korea’s Foreign Trade Bank
Location: FTB Building, Jungsong-dong, Central District, Pyongyang, North Korea
SWIFT/BIC: FTBD KP PY

Name: Paek Se-Bong
AKA: Paek Se Pong
DOB: 21 March 1938
Title: Chairman, Second Economic Committee

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
1. Here is a summary in the Daily NK.

2. Here is the Treasury Departments DPRK Resource Center Page.

3. Here is the State Department press release which includes additional sanctioned individuals.

4. Here is coverage in the Hankyoreh.

5. Stephan Haggard on the sanctions.

6. The EU also imposed sanctions. The US wants them expanded to cover the DPRK’s Foreign Trade Bank.

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North Korean products in department stores on the rise

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2013-2-22

The number of North Korean made products is increasingly on the rise at North Korean department stores. Reportedly, 70 percent of the merchandise on the shelves in North Korea’s largest department store, Pyongyang Department Store No. 1, is North Korean made.

Japan-based pro-North Korean newspaper Choson Sinbo reported on February 13 that the bestselling item is apple juice made from the Taedong River Combined Fruit Farm, sold from the kiosk located on the first floor of Pyongyang Department Store No. 1. Sonhung Food Factory products, especially bread and confectionaries, are also said to be very popular.

The newspaper commented that the regularly held product exhibition shows at the department store have created competitive environment for local factories and companies and contributed to the production of high-quality products. They also emphasized that exhibition of products began on account of recommendations of the former North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il.

It further added, “The product exhibition invites participation from light industry factories and enterprises and its affiliated units from central and regional areas as well as department stores in Pyongyang and general stores that sell industrial products.” It commended the expos to be well received by the local people for filling the shelves with local products.

The first exhibition began in December 2010, and the second and third exhibitions were held in July 2011 and January 2012, respectively. Selling of Taedong River Combined Fruit Farm products began from the third exhibition.

In an interview with Choson Sinbo, Kim Miyoung, commerce director of Pyongyang Department Store No. 1, said the following: “Employees of the department stores and our patrons never imagined a day like this would come where our department store shelves are filled with North Korea made products, especially when we were going through the difficult economic times.”

The news also reported the opening of North Korea’s first 24-hour pharmacy. Pyongsu Pharmaceutical, a joint venture company between North Korea and Switzerland, has claimed to have opened North Korea’s first 24-hour pharmacy, called Taedongmun Pharmacy, in Pyongyang last August. Pyongsu pharmaceutical joint venture company was established from September 2004 between InterPacific Group of Switzerland and Pyongyang Pharmaceutical Factory under the Ministry of Health of the DPRK. They both produce and sell pharmaceutical products in Pyongyang. Its homepage introduces nine operating pharmacies in Pyongyang. (See Pyongsu’s website for details: www.pyongsu.com.)

The first pharmacy by Pyongsu was built near the Pyongyang’s Arch of Triumph in 2006 and expanded the number of pharmacy to nine, including the Taedongmun Pharmacy. In addition, Kangan Pharmacy was highlighted in its website, boasting that all the pharmacists working at this pharmacy are graduates of Kim Il Sung University. It also boasts that it is the first pharmacy to have been equipped with blood testing equipment.

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Mansu Hill statue drama…

Monday, February 11th, 2013

UPDATE 3 (2013-1-10): Kyodo (via The Telegraph) solves the riddle of just why the Kim statues on Mansu Hill were covered up in October 2012 (See below)–a new version of the Kim Jong-il statue was put up. It replaced a statue that was erected in April 2012.

Below is a before/after comparison.

NKOREA_STATUE_COMP_2476186c

UPDATE 1 (2012-10-3): A reader sends in this image of the statues covered up.

Ruedeger Frank also publishes an image at 38 North.

ORIGINAL POST (2012-9-24):

Pictured above are satellite and ground-level images of the Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il statues on Mansu Hill. Although these statues were unveiled just this past April, word on the street is that they are once-again  hidden under a protective covering  that was placed on the site sometime in mid-September. Unfortunately, there are not yet any pictures of the new wraps.

Although it is unclear why the statues have been covered up, Occam’s razor tells me that they are doing some maintenance work of some kind.

On a related note, the Mansu Hill model replica at the newly constructed Pyongyang Folk Village is missing its Kim statues as well. North Korean television footage of Kim Jong-un’s visit to the newly-opened park revealed a Mansudae Grand Monument that looked rather hollow in the center owing to the absence of the Kim statues:

As we all know, official images of the leaders are produced exclusively by the Mansudae Art studio in Pyongyang’s Phyongchon District. Either the art studio has not gotten around to making miniature replicas of the statues on Mansu Hill or this exhibit will never have them.

I believe the latter is probably the case.

From an ideological perspective, miniature Kim replicas would not inspire the masses the way the real [large] statues are meant to. They would almost certainly cause confusion. Can you imagine bowing to a statue shorter than you? Actually from the television footage it is difficult to make out the scale of the site, but it is quite probable that even miniature statues would be larger than life-size.

From a fiscal perspective, installing real [miniature] Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il statues would be expensive for the park managers. In addition to the cost of commissioning the two statues, the park managers would have to begin treating this part of the park as an actual revolutionary site–with all the formality, expense and protocol associated therewith. I don’t think anybody wants that.

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Taepung International Investment Group allegedly dissolved

Friday, February 1st, 2013

According to Yonhap:

North Korea dissolved a well-known state-run company in charge of attracting foreign investment due to its unsatisfactory performance, South Korea’s Unification Ministry said Friday.

“Daepung International Investment Group seems to have been disbanded, probably due to poor performance,” a ministry official said in a briefing on governmental and personnel changes taken under the Kim Jong-un regime over the past year.

The country also broke up another extra-governmental organization in charge of trade promotion and foreign investment with its work believed to have been reassigned to the government’s Commission for Joint Venture and Investment, according to the official.

Daepung Group was established at the instruction of the North’s highest political body, the National Defense Commission, in January 2010 as a means to attract foreign investment.

The group oversaw the now-suspended joint tourist program in Mount Kumgang on the eastern coast of North Korea.

The cross-border program had served as a cash cow for the North before Seoul halted it in 2008 following the shooting death of a South Korean tourist at the resort.

Additional Information:

1. Previous posts on the Taepung Investment Group can be found here.

2. NK Leadership Watch has an excellend review of the organization here.

3. The “Commission for Joint Venture and Investment” is also known as the Joint Venture Investment Committee (JVIC). See JVIC posts here.

Read the full story here:
N. Korea dissolves state-run firm in charge of attracting foreign investment: gov’t
Yonhap
2013-2-1

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Felix Abt interview

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

Felix Abt, author of A Capitalist in North Korea and founder of the DPRK’s Pyongsu Pharmaceutical Factory, did an online interview in which he discusses  some of the surprising quirks of living in North Korea…such as getting locked out of your LinkedIn account (we blogged about this back in March 2009).

Here is a blurb:

Is North Korea Now Open for Business?

Not quite. But Abt tells me he believes opening up to commerce has “become a more important priority” for the North Korean government over the past ten years.

“I’m getting a lot of proactive proposals from the North Koreans, which we haven’t experienced in the past, so there is quite a big change on that front,” Abt says. “My business partners in Pyongyang can use [file-sharing service] Dropbox, they can travel more often now, and more North Korean companies have been allowed, particularly in 2012, to interact with foreign ones.”

Still, obstacles exist for anyone seeking to do business in this most frontier of frontier markets.

Power cuts are frequent, infrastructure is crumbling, and sanctions remain strict. On the other hand, Abt says the hardships he encountered cemented deep personal bonds between him and his colleagues.

“We had to solve practical problems every day; it was a daily struggle that brought us close,” Abt recalls. “We worked hard together, but we also partied together, went to karaoke, had good dinners, went on excursions, and had fun together. I never had the feeling that I was an alien in their eyes or a potential enemy or a spy — the relationship was quite relaxed and friendly, driven by our joint goals.”

Abt and staff members celebrate International Women’s Day in Pyongyang (Photo: Felix Abt)

So, would he do it again?

“I like to go back from time to time to eat some good food and have a merry evening, but otherwise, of course, I am happy where I am now,” Abt says.

“Seven years is a long time.”

Read the full interview here.

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Mansudae ODG building Angkor e-museum

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

Angkor-emueum-3

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

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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New statues of the Kims in Kanggye

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

UPDATE: A friend sent in a link to the video of the unveiling that appeared on North Korean television:

ORIGINAL POST:

Pictured above (Google Earth:  40.971557°, 126.588980°) the old Kim Il-sung statue in Kanggye, Jagang Province.

Satellite imagery is not recent enough to show the change, but KCNA reports that Kanggye City, the capital of Jagang Province, has received new statues of the deceased Kims:

Pyongyang, October 11 (KCNA) — Statues of President Kim Il Sung and leader Kim Jong Il were erected in Kanggye City, Jagang Province.

The statue of Kim Il Sung depicts him standing in his military uniform whose coat flying in the wind, his right hand held high and left hand taking a pair of binoculars. He seems to dynamically arouse the army and people of the DPRK to provide a turning-point in the Fatherland Liberation War. The statue of Kim Jong Il imposingly standing in his padded dress conveying so many stories about the Songun revolution depicts him with one of his hands placed on his waist. His face beaming with a broad smile looks as if he were wishing the great Paektusan power a rosy future.

An unveiling ceremony took place on Thursday.

Present there were Kim Yong Nam, Choe Yong Rim, Choe Ryong Hae, Kim Jong Gak, Kim Ki Nam, officials concerned, service personnel, officials and employees of the units who contributed to the erection of the statues, members of the shock brigades and people and school youth and children in the province.

The statues were unveiled by senior party, state and army officials and leading officials of the province.
A floral basket sent by the dear respected Kim Jong Un was laid before the statues.

Laid there then was a floral basket in the joint name of the Central Committee of the Worker’ Party of Korea, the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly and the DPRK Cabinet.

Also placed there were a floral basket in the name of Jagang Province and floral baskets in the name of the party and power organs, bodies of different levels, enterprises, factories and farms, KPA units, etc. in Jagang Province.

All the participants paid tribute in profound reverence to the statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.

Kim Yong Nam, member of the Presidium of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the WPK and president of the Presidium of the SPA, made an unveiling speech.

He said the great Generalissimos paved the way of turning the province, which had been considered as unfit for human habitation, into a good place to live in and made sure that the province took the lead in the drive for building a thriving nation.

Recalling that it was the ardent desire of the people in the province to have statues of the great Generalissimos, he said the statues were erected in a brief span of time on the highest level thanks to their loyalty.

After being briefed on the statues, the participants looked round the statues.

A valued reader pointed out to me some some peculiar language (in the English version of the story). I point it out below:

He seems to dynamically arouse the army and people of the DPRK to provide a turning-point in the Fatherland Liberation War. The statue of Kim Jong Il imposingly standing in his padded dress conveying so many stories about the Songun revolution depicts him with one of his hands placed on his waist.

I have to laugh at the phrase “dynamically arouse”. Someday I will need to work that into a conversation.  And just what would you make of a statue of Kim jong-il “imposingly standing in his padded dress”? If only I was proficient with Photoshop…

This will be the 11th Kim Jong-il statue of which I am aware. At this point we can probably expect new Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il statues to go up in all of the provincial capitals.

All of these statues are constructed by the Mansudae Art Studio in Phyongchon, Pyongyang.

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