Archive for the ‘State Fiscal and Financial Committee’ Category

US sanctions Syrian bank for DPRK connection

Sunday, August 14th, 2011

UPDATE 1 (2011-8-17): The recently sanctioned bank denies it has ties to Iran and the DPRK. According to Lebanon’s Daily Star:

The Lebanese subsidiary of a Syrian bank sanctioned by the United States denied on Wednesday “unfounded political allegations” that it dealt with North Korea and Iran.

“Since the establishment of our institution, we have never had any operation with either a North Korean or an Iranian entity even before the existing sanctions,” the Syrian Lebanese Commercial Bank said.

“As a result, we deny all accusation of being involved in any illegal activity with any suspected country,” a statement added.

The United States Treasury has charged that the state-owned Commercial Bank of Syria allegedly supported Syria and North Korea’s efforts to spread weapons of mass destruction.

Washington last week imposed sanctions on the bank, the Syrian Lebanese Commercial Bank and telecoms company Syriatel over President Bashar al-Assad’s increasingly brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protests.

The move freezes the US assets of the businesses targeted and prohibits US entities from engaging in any business dealings with the two banks.

ORIGINAL POST (2011-8-14): The US has sanctioned a Syrian Bank for its involvement in DPRK proliferation activities.  According to Yonhap:

The Treasury Department said the Commercial Bank of Syria has provided financial services to North Korea’s Tanchon Commercial Bank and Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Center, both of which were blacklisted for the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

The Syrian bank’s Lebanon-based subsidiary, Syrian Lebanese Commercial Bank, and Syriatel, the largest mobile phone operator in Syria, were also sanctioned under Wednesday’s measure.

“By exposing Syria’s largest commercial bank as an agent for designated Syrian and North Korean proliferators, and by targeting Syria’s largest mobile phone operator for being controlled by one of the regime’s most corrupt insiders, we are taking aim at the financial infrastructure that is helping provide support to (President Bashar) Asad and his regime’s illicit activities,” Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen said in a press release.

The Commercial Bank of Syria also holds an account for Tanchon Commercial Bank, the primary financial agent for the Korea Mining Development Corp., North Korea’s premier arms dealer and main exporter of goods and equipment related to ballistic missiles and conventional weapons, according to the department.

The U.S. is stepping up efforts to isolate the Assad regime amid its brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters.

NTI has additional information here.

Other DPRK-Syria stories below:
1. Syria and the DPRK collaborated on the construction of Syria’s nuclear facility which was destroyed in 2007 by an Israeli air strike.

2. According to Joshua Pollock, over the last decade the DPRK and Syria have cooperated on missile development.

3. The UNSC was investigating a shipment of North Korean chemical safety suits to Syria.

4. Syria’s Tishreen War Museum was designed and built by North Koreans!

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The heads of the Central Bank and State Price Commission appointed

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No. 11-03-15
3/15/2011

Recently, Paek Ryong Chon was appointed as the new President of the Central Bank of the DPRK. Paek is known as the third son of late Paek Nam Sun, the former Foreign Minister of the DPRK.

According to the DPRK’s official news agency KCNA, a national meeting of commercial officials was held at the People’s Palace of Culture in Pyongyang on March 7, 2011. The list of attendees at this event included Paek Ryong Chon as the President of the Central Bank.

The senior Paek served as the Foreign Minister of the DPRK from 1998 to 2007 before he passed away in January 2007. His third son, Paek Ryong Chon, 49, made his public political appearances at the North-South Premier Talks and the Joint Committee for Inter-Korean Economic Cooperation meetings in Seoul on December 2007 as a department director of the Secretariat of the Cabinet.

Previously, he visited South Korea as a part of the North Korean delegation in 2002 at the first working-level talks of inter-Korean economic cooperation and again in June 2006 for the Inter-Korean Joint Event held in Kwangju.

The Central Bank was established in 1946 and is responsible for issuing bank notes, currency control and regulating other banks. The Central Bank also operates as a savings and insurance institution that provides services for the general population of North Korea through regional branch offices.

Paek’s new appointment is believed to be largely in consideration for the late foreign minister, Paek Nam Sun.

Meanwhile, Ryang Ui Gyong was appointed as the Chairman of the State Price Commission, which was formerly known as the State Price Bureau.

The KCNA made a referral to Ryang Ui Gyong as the Chairman of the State Price Commission in a recent report on a national meeting of commercial officials.

Not much is known about Ryang. He is speculated to have built his career in the State Price Bureau as a technocrat.

The State Price Commission is responsible for the price control of agricultural and industrial prices and wage systems, calculating the living costs for the people. The recent upgrade from a bureau to a commission is analyzed by many experts as North Korea’s move toward stronger price control policy to stabilize prices.

The Commission is also in charge of regulating import and export prices twice a year. This is evaluated as an attempt to prevent imports from being imported at a higher price and exports from being exported at a lower price than the international market average.

In the past, the State Planning Commission and the State Science and Technology Commission were the two main commissions in North Korea. However, since June 2010, the number of commissions has risen to five, a result of the reorganization of the Ministry of Education to Education Commission, the Joint Venture and Investment Guidance Bureau to the Committee of Investment and Joint Ventures, and the State Price Bureau to the State Price Commission.

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DPRK central bank raises deposit rates and eases access to money

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

UPDATE: For the second time in as many weeks, the DPRK’s central bank makes the news.  According to KCNA:

A national meeting of commercial officials took place at the People’s Palace of Culture on Monday.

The meeting reviewed the gains and experience made in the past commercial service and discussed tasks and ways for improving this work.

Present there were Premier Choe Yong Rim, Minister of Light Industry An Jong Su, Minister of Foodstuff and Daily Necessities Industry Jo Yong Chol, Chairman of the State Price Commission Ryang Ui Gyong, President of the Central Bank Paek Ryong Chon and other officials.

According to Yonhap, Paek Ryong Chon is the third son of the late foreign minister Paek nam-sun.

ORIGINAL POST: A big hat tip to Chris Green who translated an interesting article on recent changes to DPRK banking regulations.  The original article in Korean is here.

According to Chris’ translation of the article:

The Chosun Central Bank is said to have raised interest rates by 1.8 times. Customers are also now able to get instant access to their money. As a result, the bank’s total deposits are also said to be growing.

These measures appear to be the bank coming forward to guarantee deposits given that people have been unwilling to put their money there since the 2009 currency redenomination.

North Korea watchers are observing the situation, saying that there is a chance that measures like these could be an indicator of financial sector reform.

Speaking on the 1st, one such source said, “I hear that the number of people putting their money in the bank is growing. The total reserves of the Chosun Central Bank are also growing. The causes of this are that access to withdrawals has recently been freed up and the interest rate has risen steeply.” According to the source, the interest rate offered by the bank was previously 3%, but has recently risen to 5.4%.

The Chosun Central Bank is a government entity under the Cabinet, doing the job of both a central and commercial bank at the same time. It offers savings, loans and insurance services.

North Korean people can deposit money there and earn interest on it; in this, it is much the same as the Post Office, which also takes deposits and gives interest.

In terms of allocation in North Korea, the state does it by force, and there are also cases of deposits being coerced. Indeed, until now it has been hard for North Korean people to recover capital deposited with the bank.

The source explained, “At times when the economic situation has been bad, it has not just been hard to get interest, it has even been common to illegally have to give 20% of the value of the capital to Central Bank management and then take the rest,” but added, “Recently, North Korean people have been able to get hold of their deposits surprisingly easily, and the rumor ‘We can get our money! And the interest has gone up!’ is going around.”

Cho Byung Hyun of the Industrial Bank of Korea’s research institute explained more, saying, “Following the failure of the 2009 currency redenomination, people disliked putting their money in the bank so, for the circulation of money, the bank instituted a policy of allowing instant access to deposits and raising interest rates.”

North Korea suffered serious fallout from the currency redenomination, including rapidly rising prices and the execution of its architect, former Workers’ Party financial planning head Pak Nam Gi.

However, it is also possible in part to interpret the failed redenomination as an opportunity to activate capitalist banking practices.

Cho went on, “We know North Korea has recently been preparing financial reforms. At the moment, banks under existing trade banks etc are controlled by the Central Bank, but this can be seen as propelling reform in the direction of giving independence to each bank.”

Meanwhile, Professor Lee Sang Min of Joongang University economics department pointed out, “This can be seen as helping with the introduction of a capitalist system in North Korea in the long term. It is an opportunity for the North Korean people to learn about a capitalist banking system.”

However, it is as yet too early to see this sort of phenomenon as meaning that the financial system of North Korea is settled. As one defector pointed out, “For this to develop into a system, the North Korean authorities shall have to spend a long time building trust.”

Another North Korea source added, “The dollar tended to be thought of by the North Korean people as the standard currency, but the Yuan is gradually moving to center stage.” This is analyzed by experts as being down to recent economic exchanges between the North and China and the rising value of the Yuan.

Fascinating stuff.  Thanks for posting, Chris.

I am actually looking for information on the DPRK’s monetary system, so if you have any good papers, please send them my way.

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US sanctions two more DPRK organizations

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

UPDATE 2: Here is the actual Treasury Department Press Release (11/18/2010):

Treasury Designates Key Nodes of the Illicit Financing Network of North Korea’s Office 39

11/18/2010
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of the Treasury today designated Korea Daesong Bank and Korea Daesong General Trading Corporation pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13551 for being owned or controlled by Office 39 of the Korean Workers’ Party.  Office 39 is a secretive branch of the government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North 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. Office 39 was named in the Annex to E.O. 13551, issued by President Obama on August 30, 2010, in response to the U.S. government’s longstanding concerns regarding North Korea’s involvement in a range of illicit activities, many of which are conducted through government agencies and associated front companies. Korea Daesong Bank is involved in facilitating North Korea’s illicit financing projects, and Korea Daesong General Trading Corporation is used to facilitate foreign transactions on behalf of Office 39.

“Korea Daesong Bank and Korea Daesong General Trading Corporation are key components of Office 39’s financial network supporting North Korea’s illicit and dangerous activities,” said Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey.  “Treasury will continue to use its authorities to target and disrupt the financial networks of entities involved in North Korean proliferation and other illicit activities.”

E.O. 13551 targets for sanctions individuals and entities facilitating North Korean trafficking in arms and related materiel; procurement of luxury goods; and engagement in certain illicit economic activities, such as money laundering, the counterfeiting of goods and currency, bulk cash smuggling and narcotics trafficking. As a result of today’s action, any assets of the designated entities that are within U.S. jurisdiction are frozen and U.S. persons are prohibited from conducting financial or commercial transactions with these entities.

UPDATE 1: Here is the US Treasury Department’s web page on North Korea.

ORIGINAL POST: According to Reuters:

The United States sanctioned on Thursday two North Korean companies linked to a group it accuses of drug smuggling and other “illicit” activities to support the nation’s secretive leadership.

U.S. sanctions against North Korea aim in part to persuade Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear programs, which the United States views as a threat to its allies South Korea and Japan. The North tested nuclear devices in 2006 and 2009.

The Treasury Department’s moves against Korea Daesong Bank and Korea Daesong General Trading Corporation will freeze any assets belonging to them that fall within U.S. jurisdiction as well as bar U.S. companies from dealing with them.

Their main aim is not to block North Korean assets in U.S. banks — analysts say there are unlikely to be any — but to discourage other banks from dealing with North Korea, thereby cutting off its access to foreign currency and luxury imports.

Perks and luxuries such as jewelry, fancy cars and yachts derived from North Korea’s shadowy network of overseas interests are believed to be one of the main tools Pyongyang uses to ensure loyalty among top military and party leaders to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

The Treasury described the two entities as “key nodes of the illicit financing network” of Office 39 of the Korean Workers’ Party, which it accuses of producing and smuggling narcotics to earn foreign exchange for the government.

“Korea Daesong Bank and Korea Daesong General Trading Corporation are key components of Office 39’s financial network supporting North Korea’s illicit and dangerous activities,” Treasury Under Secretary Stuart Levey said in a statement.

Heroin Production?
The Treasury designated the two under a recent executive order that targets entities that support North Korea’s arms trafficking, facilitate its luxury goods purchases and engage in illicit economic activities such as money laundering, drug and bulk cash smuggling and counterfeiting goods and currency.

President Barack Obama signed the executive order on August 30 allowing the Treasury to block the U.S. assets of North Korean entities that trade in arms or luxury goods, counterfeit currency or engage in money laundering, drug smuggling or other “illicit” activity to support the government or its leaders.

When that executive order was announced, the Treasury accused Office 39 of producing opium and heroin and of smuggling narcotics such as methamphetamine.

U.S.-North Korean relations have deteriorated since Obama took office, with his aides deeply unhappy about Pyongyang’s decision to conduct nuclear and missile tests last year as well as the March 26 sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan.

Forty-six South Korean sailors were killed in the incident, which the United States, South Korea and other nations blame squarely on North Korea. Pyongyang denies responsibility.

In the August 30 executive order, Obama cited the Cheonan’s sinking as well as 2009 nuclear and missile tests by North Korea as evidence it poses “an unusual and extraordinary threat” to U.S. national security, foreign policy and economy.

The Obama administration has been skeptical about returning to so-called six-party negotiations with the two Koreas, China, Japan and Russia under which Pyongyang committed in 2005 to abandon its nuclear programs.

U.S. officials say they do not want to talk for the sake of talking and North Korea must show some commitment to abandoning its nuclear programs.
Read the full story here:
U.S. sanctions two North Korean entities
Reuters
Arshad Mohammed
11/18/2010

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DPRK trade bank sued for failure to settle debt

Monday, August 9th, 2010

UPDATE 8/9/2010: According to Yonhap:

A state-run North Korean bank has lost a lawsuit for not paying back a loan it borrowed from a Taiwanese bank nine years ago, the New York district court said Friday.

The District Court of New York confirmed it ordered the Foreign Trade Bank of Korea to pay compensations of just under US$6.77 million to the Mega International Commercial Bank (MICB) in a ruling made earlier in the week.

And as Josh notes: “By which they really mean the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.”

Some additional case information may be found here.

As an aside, North Korea also recently lost another court case in the US.  Read more here.

ORIGINAL POST (5/6/2010): According to KBS:

The Taiwanese bank filed its lawsuit to claim some five million dollars in interest and principal on August 25th, 2001.

It is unclear whether the North Korean bank will repay the Taiwanese plaintiff, but North Korea experts say this will at least add to the crunch on North Korean finances.

Some reference information can be found here.

According to the Korea Times:

A state-run North Korean bank is facing trial in the United States for failing to pay a $5 million loan that it borrowed from a Taiwanese bank in 2001, according to sources Wednesday.

The District Court for the Southern District of New York ordered the Foreign Trade Bank (FTB) of North Korea to make a court appearance on May 17 and submit a proposed case management plan and scheduling order.

The FTB reportedly borrowed $5 million from the Mega International Commercial Bank (MICB) in Taiwan on Aug. 25, 2001 on the promise to amortize the principal and interest in three installments by Sept. 15, 2004.

No repayment was made until December 2008, when the FTB paid the MICB $100,000 to cover some of the interest. The North Korean bank has thus far paid off a total of $462,000 to the MICB, still owing $1.78 million in interest and $4.7 million in principal.

“It has been almost unprecedented for North Korea to be sued in a commercial dispute, though there were occasions that the North was asked to stand in U.S. courts for terrorist activities,” an official of the South Korean Consulate General in New York told Yonhap News.

The official said the litigation will hamper Pyongyang’s recent move to aggressively attract foreign investment in an effort to revive its flagging economy, given that obviously doubt will arise over its debt repayment capacity.

Despite a recent currency reform, the North’s economy remains in a parlous state as the U.N. sanctions have cut off virtually all sources of foreign currency.

Seoul has also suspended tours to the North’s popular tourist destination of Mt. Geumgang, following the shooting death of a South Korean tourist in the mountain resort in July 2008. The tours were a cash cow for the North, generating more than $500 million between 1998 and 2008.

On May 1, the FTB’s official exchange rate was 96.9 won per dollar, but it was traded at 180 won in Pyongyang and higher in other areas, demonstrating the instability of the North’s economy, according to the sources.

Since established in 1959, the bank has served as the reclusive regime’s main foreign exchange bank, they said. It has branch offices in France, Australia, Kuwait, Hong Kong and Beijing.

Read the full story here:
NK trade bank sued for failure to settle debt
Korea Times
5/5/2010

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UN report explains sanctions decisions

Friday, August 6th, 2010

According to the Daily NK:

The 1718 Committee of the UN Security Council has published the final version of its “Report to the Security Council from the Panel of Experts established Pursuant to Resolution 1874,”

In the report, of which the Daily NK has obtained a copy, the 1718 Committee revealed North Korean overseas accounts which had likely been used for North Korea’s illicit activities such as conventional weapons transactions and luxury goods, and the names of entities and individuals involved in those activities. The lists were submitted by UN member states.

The report singles out 17 North Korean officials thought likely to violate UN Resolutions 1718 and 1874, and outlines the reasons why they were designated by the UN member states.

They are Jang Sung Taek, Vice-chairman of the National Defense Commission and the closest associate of Kim Jong Il, Vice-chairman of the National Defense Commission Oh Keuk Ryul, Kim Young Chun, the Minister for the People’s Armed Forces, Director of No. 39 Department Kim Dong Woon, Military Supplies Secretary in the Central Committee of the Party Jeon Byung Ho, former Yongbyon technical director Jeon Chi Bu, First Vice-director of the Ministry of the Munitions Industry Chu Kyu Chang, Standing Vice-director of the People’s Army’s General Political Department Hyun Cheul Hae, President of the Tanchon Commercial Bank Kim Dong Myung, Member of the National Defence Commission Baek Se Bong, Deputy Director of the General Political Department of the People’s Armed Forces Park Jae Kyung, President of the Academy of Science Byeon Youong Rip, Director of the General Bureau of Atomic Energy Ryeom Young, Head of the Department of Nuclear Physics of Kim Il Sung University Seo Sang Il, President of Kohas AG Jacop Steiger and Alex H.T. Tsai, who is known to have provided financial, technological and other support for KOMID, and his wife, Su Lu-chi.

It also released a list of autonomous designations provided by member states, covering 19 North Korean entities. That list was made based on information collected as of April 30th this year.

They are Amroggang Development Banking Corporation, Global Interface Company Inc., Hesong Trading Corporation, Korea Complex Equipment Import Corporation, Kohas AG, Korea International Chemical Joint Venture Company, Korea Kwangson Banking Corp, Korea Kwangsong Trading Corporation, Korea Pugang Trading Corporation, Korea Pugang Mining and Machinery Corporation ltd., Korea Ryongwang Trading Corporation, Korea Ryonha Machinery Joint Venture Corporation, Korea Tonghae Shipping Company, Ponghwa Hospital, Pyongyang Informatics Centre, Sobaeku United Corp., Tosong Technology Trading Corporation, Trans Merits Co. Ltd., and Yongbyon Nuclear Research Centre.

13 out of the 19 have direct or indirect links to Tanchon Commercial Bank and Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation (KOMID).

Amroggang Development Banking Corporation is the financial arm of KOMID and related to Tanchon Commercial Bank, which has also been designated by the 1718 Committee. Additionally, Global Interface Company Inc. is owned by Alex Tsai, who is thought to have provided, or attempted to provide, support to KOMID.

Sobaeku United Corp. is involved in activities related to natural graphite, producing graphite blocks that can be used in missiles.

The report points out, “North Korea has established a highly sophisticated international network for the acquisition, marketing and sale of arms and military equipment, and arms exports have become one of the country’s principal sources for obtaining foreign exchange,” and goes on to say, “Agencies under the National Defense Commission (NDC), the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) and the Korean People’s Army (KPA) are most active in this regard.”

The report explains, “The Second Economic Committee of the National Defense Commission plays the largest and most prominent role in nuclear, other WMD and missile-related development programs as well as in arranging and conducting arms-related exports.”

It adds, “The General Bureau of Surveillance of the Korean People’s Army is involved in the production and sale of conventional armaments.”

The report points out that North Korea has opened 39 accounts with 18 overseas banks in 14 countries. 17 of which are held with Chinese banks.

Besides China, 11 banks in eight European and former Soviet countries (Russia, Switzerland, Denmark, Hungary, Poland, Italy, German, Belarus and Kazakhstan) hold 18 North Korean accounts. There is one account in Malaysia.

“The DPRK also employs a broad range of techniques to mask its financial transactions, including the use of overseas entities, shell companies, informal transfer mechanisms, cash couriers and barter arrangements,” the report notes.

According to experts on North Korea, since North Korean overseas illegal activities are all led by the loyal group surrounding Kim Jong Il, U.S. financial sanctions in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions 1817 and 1874 and also U.S. Executive Order (E.O.) 13382 have the potential to be a great pressure on the Kim Jong Il regime.

The Panel of Experts, which was appointed by the UN Secretary-General on 12 August 2009 to author the report, are David J. Birch (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, coordinator), Masahiko Asada (Japan), Victor D. Comras (United States of America), Erik Marzolf (France), Young Wan Song (Republic of Korea), Alexander Vilnin (Russian Federation), and Xiaodong Xue (People’s Republic of China).

Read the full story here:
Report Explains Sanctions Decisions
Daily NK
Kim Yong Hun
8/6/2010

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More on upcoming US sanctions

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

According to the AFP:

The United States is expected to blacklist three key North Korean figures suspected of handling secret funds for leader Kim Jong-Il as part of its new sanctions, a report said Wednesday.

Washington is devising the measures to punish the North for an alleged deadly March attack on a South Korean warship and to push it to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions.

Yonhap news agency, quoting an unidentified South Korean government source, said one of the three officials is Kim Tong-Myong, head of the North’s Tanchon Commercial Bank.

“The US is paying special attention to three people, including Kim Tong-Myong, who operate North Korea’s secret funds abroad,” the source was quoted as saying.

“If they are included in the new sanctions, it could deal a blow to North Korea’s leadership.”

The foreign ministry had no comment on the report.

Washington also has evidence that nine North Korean financial institutions operating overseas and at least two trading firms have been used for illicit activities such as trading in conventional arms, luxury goods and counterfeit money, the source was quoted as saying.

Overall, the US is expected to add 10-20 North Korean entities and individuals to its blacklist, the report said.

Robert Einhorn, US State Department special adviser for non-proliferation and arms control, said Monday during a visit to Seoul the new measures would designate companies or individuals involved in the North’s illicit activities.

Any property or assets they possessed which were under US control could be blocked.

“By publicly naming these entities, these measures can have the broader effect of isolating them from the international financial and commercial system,” Einhorn said.

He named Tanchon Bank as one of several North Korean companies active overseas. The bank has already been designated by the US and the UN Security Council for suspected illicit activities.

South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-Hwan said details of the new US sanctions will emerge soon.

“We’re expecting concrete measures within the next two weeks that will freeze assets of related North Korean individuals or companies and will prohibit third countries from dealing with such individuals or companies,” Yu told a local radio station.

South Korea, the United States and other countries, citing a multinational investigation, accuse the North of torpedoing a South Korean warship in March with the loss of 46 lives — a charge it denies.

Read the full story here:
US to target secret funds of N.Korea’s Kim
AFP
8/4/2010

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DPRK issues rule on bank deposits

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

According to the Daily NK:

North Korean authorities released a public announcement that they will exchange deposits, consigned to the Chosun (North Korea) Central Bank during the currency redenomination in November last year, into new bills at the rate of 100:1 within the limit of 500,000 won.

Last November the North’s authorities announced that they will exchange the existing denomination, to a limit of 150,000 won per household, to the newly issued bills at the rate of 100:1. They urged people to deposit their remaining cash into the bank.

However, many citizens have refused to follow the instructions after previous experiences with forfeited deposits during the country’s fourth redenomination in 1992.

This measure is designed to work towards curing the hardships of residents caused by the decline in value of individual property since the last redenomination. There are hopes that it will stimulate market activity by increasing the amount of money in circulation, particularly since a downturn in purchasing power amongst the people led to an economic depression.

However, even after the Central Bank’s announcement the people remain apathetic. A source said that, “Prices have risen to similar levels as before the redenomination. Rice now costs over 1,000 won per kilogram; when you get back your deposit of 5,000 won you can only buy five kilograms of rice. It’s meaningless.”

If the state-designated price of rice, around 24 won per kilogram in procurement stores, had been maintained then this measure would be significant. Now the prices have multiplied by 50 and the people say that the measure is nothing but a play on words.

In addition, February saw the authorities hand down a decree to raise all state-designated prices by 100 times to levels known before the redenomination. The decree was not applied to people’s deposits in the bank, a fact that has received criticism from the public. A source commented that, “The authorities actions are nonsense. They raised prices by 100 times but people’s deposits were the same value as last year. It is ridiculous.”

Read the full sotry here:
Bank Deposits Can Be Withdrawn at 100:1 Rate
Daily NK
Park In Ho
7/29/2010

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Burma-North Korea Ties: Escalating Over Two Decades

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

According to the Irrawaddy:

A recent New York Times op-ed article by Aung Lynn Htut, formerly a high-ranking Burmese military intelligence officer who defected in 2005 while he served as an attaché at the Burmese embassy in Washington, shed new light on the history of the still murky relationship between Burma and North Korea, two of the world’s most isolated, secretive and oppressive regimes.

Burma broke diplomatic relations with North Korea in 1983, when North Korean agents attempted to assassinate the South Korean president on Burmese soil. But according to Aung Lynn Htut, shortly after current junta-chief Snr-Gen Than Shwe assumed power in 1992, he surreptitiously moved to renew ties with Pyongyang.

“Than Shwe secretly made contact with Pyongyang. Posing as South Korean businessmen, North Korean weapon experts began arriving in Burma. I remember these visitors. They were given special treatment at the Rangoon airport,” Aung Lynn Htut said in his June 18 article.

The junta kept its renewed ties with North Korea secret for more than a decade because it was working to establish relationships with Japanese and South Korean businesses, Aung Lynn Htut said. By 2006, however, “the junta’s generals felt either desperate or confident enough to publicly resume diplomatic relations with North Korea.” 

In November 2008, the junta’s No 3, Gen Shwe Mann, visited North Korea and signed a memorandum of understanding, officially formalizing military cooperation between Burma and North Korea. Photographs showed him touring secret tunnel complexes built into the sides of mountains thought to store and protect jet aircraft, missiles, tanks and nuclear and chemical weapons.

According to Aung Lynn Htut, Lt-Gen Tin Aye, the No.5 in the Burma armed forces and the chief of Military Ordnance, is now the main liaison in the relationship with Pyongyang. Tin Aye has often traveled to North Korea as well as attended ceremonies at the North Korean embassy in Rangoon.

In September 2009, The New Light of Myanmar reported that Tin Aye went to the anniversary celebration of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), held in a hotel in Rangoon. In February, Tin Aye, along with other senior officials, attended the birthday event of the Dear Leader of North Korea at the embassy.

Flights and ships from North Korea to Burma have been carrying more than just Burmese generals. Analysts, including Burma military expert Andrew Selth, say that for years Burma and North Korea have used a barter system whereby Burma exchanges primary products for North Korean military technologies.

In June 2009, a North Korean ship, the Kang Nam I, was diverted from going to Burma after being trailed by the US navy. Then in April, another North Korean ship, the Chong Gen, docked in Burma carrying suspicious cargo, allegedly in violation of the UN Security Council Resolution 1874, which restricts North Korea from arms deals and from trading in technology that could be used for nuclear weapons.

In May, the seven-member UN panel monitoring the implementation of sanctions against North Korea said in a report that Pyongyang is involved in banned nuclear and ballistic activities in Iran, Syria and Burma with the aid of front companies around the world.

According to the UN report, a North Korean company, Namchongang Trading, which is known to be associated with illicit procurement for Burma’s nuclear and military program and is on the US sanctions list, was involved in suspicious activities in Burma.

The report also noted three individuals were arrested in Japan in 2009 for attempting to illegally export a magnetometer—a dual-use instrument that can be employed in making missile control system magnets and gas centrifuge magnets—to Burma via Malaysia allegedly under the direction of another company known to be associated with illicit procurement for North Korea’s nuclear and military programs.

The UN experts also said that the Korea Kwangson Banking Corporation has handled several transactions involving millions of dollars directly related to deals between Burma and the Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation.
 
With this string of events and the suspicions surrounding them as a dramatic lead in, on June 4, Al Jazeera aired a news documentary prepared by the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) which was written by Robert Kelley, a nuclear scientist and former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The DVB report claimed that the ruling military junta in Burma is “mining uranium, converting it to uranium compounds for reactors and bombs, and is trying to build a reactor and/or an enrichment plant that could only be useful for a bomb.”

The IAEA wrote to Burma’s agency representative, Tin Win, on June 14 and asked whether the information provided in the DVB report was true. Burma, which is a member of the IAEA, a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and a signatory to the Southeast Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty, responded with a letter stating that the DVB report allegations are “groundless and unfounded.”

“No activity related to uranium conversion, enrichment, reactor construction or operation has been carried out in the past, is ongoing or is planned for the future in Myanmar [Burma],” the letter said.

The letter also noted that Burma is a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the agency’s so-called safeguards agreement. “As stated in the safeguards agreement, Myanmar will notify the agency if it plans to carry out any nuclear activities,” the letter said.

The regime, however, has not signed the IAEA’s Additional Protocol, meaning that the agency has no power to set up an inspection of Burma’s nuclear facilities under the existing mechanism known as the Small Quantities Protocol.

Previously, on June 11, Burma’s state radio and television news had reported the Foreign Ministry’s denial of the allegations in the DVB report. The denial claimed that anti-government groups in collusion with the media had launched the allegations with the goal of “hindering Burma’s democratic process and to tarnish the political image of the government.”

The Foreign Ministry denial also addressed Nyapyidaw’s relationship with Pyongyang. “Following the re-establishment of diplomatic relations, Myanmar [Burma] and the DPRK, as independent sovereign states, have been engaging in promoting trade and cooperation between the two countries in the same way Myanmar is dealing with others,” the ministry said in its statement.

The regime did acknowledge that the Chong Gen docked at Thilawa Port near Rangoon in April. But the statement said the North Korean vessel was involved in importing cement from North Korea and exporting rice from Burma.

But in an article for Asia Times online, Burma analyst Bertil Linter noted that, “if carrying only innocuous civilian goods, as the statement maintains, there would seemingly have been no reason for authorities to cut electricity around the area when the Chong Gen, a North Korean ship flying the Mongolian flag of convenience, docked on the outskirts of Yangon.”

“According to intelligence sources, security was tight as military personnel offloaded heavy material, including Korean-made air defense radars. The ship left the port with a return cargo of rice and sugar, which could mean that it was, at least in part, a barter deal. On January 31 this year, another North Korean ship, the Yang M V Han A, reportedly delivered missile components also at Yangon’s Thilawa port,” Linter said.

Strategypage.com, a military affairs website covering armed forces worldwide, said, “Indications are that the North Korean ship that delivered a mysterious cargo four months ago, was carrying air defense radars (which are now being placed on hills up north) and ballistic missile manufacturing equipment. Dozens of North Korean technicians have entered the country in the last few months, and have been seen working at a military facility outside Mandalay. It’s unclear what this is for. Burma has no external enemies, and ballistic missiles are of no use against internal opposition.”

In his Asia Times online story, Lintner noted that on June 24, the DVB reported that a new radar and missile base had been completed near Mohnyin in Myanmar’s northern Kachin State, and he reported that work on similar radar and missile bases has been reported from Kengtung in eastern Shan State,160 kilometers north of the Thai border town of Mae Sai.

“Since Myanmar is not known to have imported radars and missile components from any country other than North Korea, the installations would appear to be one of the first visible outcomes of a decade of military cooperation,” Lintner said.

Lintner also reported that Western intelligence sources know that 30 to 40 North Korean missile technicians are currently working at a facility near Minhla on the Irrawaddy River in Magwe Division, and that some of the technicians may have arrived overland by bus from China to give the appearance of being Chinese tourists. 

North Korea has also issued adamant denials with respect to allegations regarding its relationship with Burma.

According to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), on June 21 Pyongyang said, “The US is now making much fuss, floating the sheer fiction that the DPRK is helping Myanmar [Burma] in its nuclear development.”

The KCNA often highlights the close relationship between North Korea and Burma.

On June 20, the Pyongyang news agency reported that ex-Col Than Tun, deputy chairman of the Union of Myanmar Economic Holding Ltd., sent a statement cheering Kim Jong Il’s 46th anniversary at the Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea.

On April 18, Korean state-run- media reported that Than Tun also issued a statement cheering the 17th anniversary of Kim Jong Il’s chairing of North Korea’s National Defense Commission.

“Kim Jong Il’s field inspection of KPA [Korean People’s Army] units served as a main source that helped bolster [North Korea’s] self-reliant defense capability in every way,” the statement noted.

Military sources said the Union of Myanmar Economic Holding Ltd, managed by the junta, is responsible for purchasing imported weapons for Burma’s armed forces, including transferring money to overseas banks such as Korea Kwangson Banking Corporation.

Meanwhile, in addition to its escalating relationship with North Korea, the Burmese military regime has recently boosted ties with Iran, which according to the UN report is also allegedly receiving nuclear and missile technologies from North Korea.

In recent years, Burmese and Iranian officials visited their counterparts homeland for the purported purpose of improving economic ties. Observers, however, said Than Shwe has made a tactical decision to develop relationships with other “pariah states,” particularly enemies of the US, to relieve Western pressure on his regime.

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Ali Fathollahi met Burmese Foreign Minister Nyan Win and Minister of Energy Lun Thi during his trip to Burma on June 15-17.

“The two sides reiterated their desire to further expand the ties of friendship and economic cooperation and to increase cooperation in the regional international forums such as [the] United Nations and Non-Aligned Movement,” The New Light of Myanmar reported on June 18.

Fathollahi’s visit came three months after Maung Myint’s visit to Iran on March 8-11, when he met Iranian Foreign Minister Manochehr Mottaki and Deputy Minister of Petroleum H. Noghrehkar Shirazi.

Read the full story below:
Burma-North Korea Ties: Escalating Over Two Decades
Irrawaddy
Wai Moe
7/7/2010

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Foreign exchange and smuggling again prevalnet in North Korea

Friday, March 26th, 2010

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No. 10-03-22-1
3/22/2010

Foreign currency swaps and illegal trade are again prevalent in North Korea, despite recent currency reforms and bans on money exchanges.

Following last November’s currency reform, there has been a significant crackdown on the use of foreign currency and cross-border trade by individuals. However, reports indicate that North Korean traders continue to conduct business with outside entities, despite new regulations requiring them to remit profits through the Korean ‘Kwangson’ Bank. There has been a crack-down on unauthorized transactions, but it appears to have been ineffective.

The Korean Central Bank and Chinese People’s Bank established the Kwangson Bank in 2004 in Dandung as part of the North’s efforts to earn foreign capital. Even today, North Korean authorities rely on the Kwangson Bank to handle trade accounts, but most North Korean traders despise using the bank, and conduct most of their transactions privately, avoiding authorities. This is because the bank has a reputation for seizing the profits of private traders. The official decision to funnel foreign funds through the Kwangson Bank was part of the effort to crack down on smuggling, and was in conjunction with other currency reform efforts.

Economic reform attempts included crackdowns on illegal activity for a short time, but black market currency trade and smuggling has again become commonplace. Reform efforts were aimed at reducing unregulated and illegal trade by requiring transactions to be carried out through a government bank, but the costs associated with such a transaction further encouraged black market activity.

It also appears that currency exchange, banned as part of last year’s currency reform, is now again being allowed in order to ease rising prices and other detrimental side effects of the measures.

In North Korea, not only traders, but also average citizens are earning foreign capital through smuggling and other means. The latest reversal of policy to again allow currency exchange is seen as an attempt by authorities to sooth rising discontent within the masses.

In November of last year, North Korea implemented currency reforms and issued new notes, devaluing the currency by 100:1 and banning private holdings of foreign currency. This led North Koreans to lose faith in the value of their currency and sparked a drive on foreign monies. Now, the government appears to be implementing measures to underscore the value of the Won and to stave off inflation. Foreign visitors are allowed to again spend foreign currency and it appears that other restrictions are slowly being lifted.

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