Archive for the ‘Banking’ Category

US Treasury “311s” North Korea

Thursday, June 2nd, 2016

Here is the statement from the Treasury Department:

Treasury Takes Actions To Further Restrict North Korea’s Access to The U.S. Financial System

6/1/2016

Action Responds to the Threat that North Korea Poses to the Global Financial System; the United States Calls on International Partners to Similarly Takes Steps toward Severing Banking Relationships with the Dangerous Regime

WASHINGTON – Today, the U.S. Department of the Treasury announced a Notice of Finding that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) is a jurisdiction of “primary money laundering concern” under Section 311 of the USA PATRIOT Act. Treasury, through its Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), also released a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) recommending a special measure to further isolate North Korea from the international financial system by prohibiting covered U.S. financial institutions from opening or maintaining correspondent accounts with North Korean financial institutions, and prohibiting the use of U.S. correspondent accounts to process transactions for North Korean financial institutions.

Section 311 gives the Secretary of the Treasury the authority to identify a foreign jurisdiction to be a primary money laundering concern. Once identified, the Secretary can require U.S. financial institutions to take appropriate countermeasures. The special measure proposed in today’s NPRM would impose the most significant measure available to the Secretary under Section 311.

“The United States, the UN Security Council, and our partners worldwide remain clear-eyed about the significant threat that North Korea poses to the global financial system. The regime is notoriously deceitful in its financial transactions in order to continue its illicit weapons programs and other destabilizing activities,” said Adam J. Szubin, Acting Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. “Today’s action is a further step toward severing banking relationships with North Korea and we expect all governments and financial authorities to do likewise pursuant to the new UN Security Council Resolution. It is essential that we all take action to prevent the regime from abusing financial institutions around the world – through their own accounts or other means.”

Reasons for This 311 Determination

Treasury is taking this action consistent with the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act, enacted on February 18, 2016, which requires Treasury to determine within 180 days whether reasonable grounds exist for concluding that North Korea is a jurisdiction of primary money laundering concern, and if so, to propose one or more special measures. In addition, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 2270 on March 2, 2016, which in part requires UN Member States to sever correspondent banking relationships with North Korean financial institutions within 90 days of the adoption of the resolution.

North Korea is proposed for action under Section 311 because (1) North Korea uses state-controlled financial institutions and front companies to conduct international financial transactions that support the proliferation and development of WMD and ballistic missiles; (2) North Korea is subject to little or no bank supervision anti-money laundering or combating the financing of terrorism (“AML/CFT”) controls; (3) North Korea has no diplomatic relationship, and thus no mutual legal assistance treaty, with the United States and does not cooperate with U.S. law enforcement and regulatory officials in obtaining information about transactions originating in or routed through or to North Korea; and (4) North Korea relies on the illicit and corrupt activity of high-level officials to support its government.

Impact of the 311 Notice of Finding and the NPRM Special Measure

While current U.S. law already generally prohibits U.S. financial institutions from engaging in both direct and indirect transactions with North Korean financial institutions, this NPRM, if finalized, would require U.S. financial institutions to implement additional due diligence measures in order to prevent North Korean banking institutions from gaining improper indirect access to U.S. correspondent accounts. While North Korea’s financial institutions do not maintain correspondent accounts with U.S. financial institutions, North Korean financial institutions frequently conduct transactions on behalf of the North Korean government and state-controlled corporations. The NPRM, if finalized, would prohibit the use of third-country banks’ U.S. correspondent accounts to process transactions for North Korean financial institutions.

Italics added for emphasis.

The “Notice of Finding” is here, and is also worth reading.

According to the Wall Street Journal:

Treasury Department officials said they are moving to ban non-U.S. banks and entities from processing dollar transactions on behalf of North Korea, an arrangement known as a U-turn, in a move to block its international trade.

China is by far Pyongyang’s largest trading partner, and Chinese firms could be caught in the crosshairs, according to current and former U.S. officials.

Zhu Haiquan, the spokesman for China’s embassy in Washington, repeated Beijing’s warnings against what it considers “unilateral sanctions taken by any country.”

He added that “we should avoid any move that may further aggravate tensions” on the Korean peninsula, and said “the unilateral sanctions must not affect and harm the legitimate rights and interests of China.”

U.S. officials were pleased that China agreed in March to support the new U.N. sanctions, which could significantly impair North Korea’s ability to generate hard currency and ship its exports.

Still, U.S. officials have voiced skepticism that Beijing would significantly punish Pyongyang, a longtime ally. China has rebuked North Korea in the past for its nuclear and missile tests, only to increase investment and trade with the country.

The issue is likely to be among the topics discussed when Messrs. Kerry and Lew meet top Chinese officials in Beijing for the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, a series of annual bilateral meetings.

According to the New York Times:

As a practical matter, that would largely affect Chinese banks, which facilitate North Korea’s financial transactions with Beijing, its largest trading partner. It could also affect some institutions in the nominally autonomous Chinese regions of Macau and Hong Kong, as well as in Singapore, where Pyongyang has often gone to hide the true nature of its banking activities, and to pay for missiles, nuclear fuel and the huge infrastructure it has built around those programs.

It is hard to assess how much the action will hurt North Korea. Such sanctions against financial institutions doing business with Iran proved effective because Tehran had billions of dollars in monthly oil and other energy exports that could be choked off; North Korea has none. Oftentimes Pyongyang deals in cash. Until a few years ago it was one of the largest counterfeiters of $100 bills. But that once-lucrative fraud was largely cut off by the redesign of the $100 bill.

Banks in the United States are already prohibited from doing business with financial institutions in North Korea. But the recommended rules would require them to perform additional due diligence to ensure they are not inadvertently transacting with North Korean financial institutions or the Pyongyang government through shell companies or other fictitious entities.

Notice of the new rules has been published by the Federal Register. Feel free to comment if you like.

Josh also writes a walk-through of how this works.

Here is information from Choson Exchange.

Troy Stangarone writes about the sanctions for KEI.

The UK also strengthened financial sanctions against the DPRK.

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Russia sanctions DPRK

Monday, May 23rd, 2016

According to the Choson Ilbo:

Russia has halted financial transactions with North Korea, and the EU has added 18 individuals and one organization to its North Korea sanctions list.

The international sanctions aim to strangle the flow of hard currency into the North’s nuclear and missile programs.

The Russian central bank last Thursday told all Russian banks to halt financial dealings with North Korean agencies, organizations and individuals on the UN Security Council sanctions list, Radio Free Asia reported.

The order said the banks must immediately freeze bonds held by sanctions targets and close accounts related to the North’s development of nuclear weapons and missiles.

A Russian presidential decree will also take effect soon to close North Korean bank branches and joint venture firms.

But Russia will continue to allow financial transactions between Russian and North Korean banks authorized by the UN.

The measures deal a blow to North Korea because the two countries have only recently increased cooperation.

Russia has been criticized for giving the North Korean regime a lot of leeway by allowing its banks to open accounts for North Korean banks and settling business with North Korea in roubles.

“What’s important is whether the international community including Russia and Switzerland will put their decisions into action,” a diplomatic source said. “If they do, the North will suffer a lot.”

A recent gasoline price hike in the North seems due to Russia’s downsizing of supplies to the North.

The EU has announced its third round of sanctions since the North’s latest nuclear test. This has brought the number of sanctions targets to 66 individuals and 42 organizations. They will be banned from entering EU countries and their assets will be frozen.

Here is coverage in the Joong Ang Ilbo:

Russia’s central bank called for a suspension of all transactions with North Korea, media outlets reported Friday, which follows Switzerland’s toughened sanctions on the regime earlier this week.

The move is in line with the strongest-ever United Nations Security Council resolution adopted in early March to penalize North Korea for its fourth nuclear test and long-range missile launch and curb its weapons of mass destruction program.

The Russian central bank was reported to have issued an order to local banks and financial institutions to suspend transactions with Pyongyang on Thursday, according to Radio Free Asia.

The order stated that transactions with Pyongyang were possible only with the permission of the United Nations.

The central bank further declared an immediate freeze on bonds held by North Korean individuals, agencies and organizations blacklisted by the UN Security Council.

Likewise, Russian financial institutions will have to close any accounts that have possible links to the North’s nuclear and missile programs.

On Wednesday, Switzerland imposed tighter sanctions on North Korea, ordering the freezing of assets held by North Koreans in the country and closure of their bank accounts as well as blocking funds owned by the North Korean government.

The Swiss government made the move to block all funds and economic resources connected with North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2270, which was adopted in March in response to Pyongyang’s nuclear test in January and a ballistic missile test in February.

This included mandatory inspections of all cargo going in and out of North Korea, a ban on exports of coal, iron and other mineral resources from the North, as well as prohibiting aviation and rocket fuel exports into the country.

Russia and China, two of the five permanent members of the 15-member Security Council, have generally defended Pyongyang’s stance in the council. They also negotiated some room for leeway in the March resolution on North Korea. How they implement the sanctions will be crucial to cutting the cash flow into Pyongyang’s WMD program.

The Swiss government extended an existing ban on exports of luxury items to include more goods and prohibited North Koreans from studying in Switzerland in higher physics or nuclear engineering.

On Thursday, the European Union expanded its sanctions against Pyongyang, adding 18 individuals and an entity it deemed related to its weapons program to its blacklist.

This brings the EU blacklist to 66 individuals and 42 entities considered to be involved with North Korea’s nuclear and missile development.

When asked about the government’s position on Russia’s sanctions, South Korean Ministry of Unification spokesman Jeong Joon-hee said in a briefing Friday, “We strongly welcome that countries around the world, including China and Russia, are actively taking part in these strong sanctions.”

Read the full story here:
Russian Central Bank Halts Dealings with N.Korea
Choson Ilbo
2016-5-23

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DPRK and FATF (UPDATED)

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016

UPDATE 10 (2106-5-19): Wendy Zeldin has published an analysis of the DPRK’s AML statue at the Library of Congress Global Legal Monitor. Here is a simplified version of her report:

On April 20, 2016, the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) issued a decree on the adoption of the Law on Anti-Money Laundering and Combating Financing of Terrorism. The Law has 40 articles divided among six chapters. According to the decree, the former Law on Anti-Money Laundering, which was adopted on October 25, 2006, no longer has any binding force.

The subjects covered by the new Law are:

-the Law’s objectives, the establishment of a national coordinating committee for anti-money laundering and combating financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) actions, and the scope of the Law’s application;
-the obligations of reporting institutions on verification of customer identification data, the establishment of an internal reporting system for large or suspicious transactions, and the reporting procedures for such types of transactions and confidentiality;
-the placement in and status of the financial intelligence unit (FIU) in the government structure, the FIU’s obligations and powers, and the operation of its database, among other matters;
-AML/CFT supervisory and regulatory institutions, obligations and powers of the Financial Supervisory Bureau, the tasks of customs agencies, and the obligations and powers of law enforcement institutions;
-the principles of international cooperation, the institutions involved in international cooperation, and the types of international cooperation for AML/CFT purposes; and
the property subject to sanctions and handling of complaints in connection with AML/CFT activities and the settlement of such complaints.

Expert observers are of the view that the adoption of the new Law indicates North Korea’s desire to join the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the international AML organization. More specifically, they suggest, it seems that North Korea is seeking to become a full member of the Asia Pacific Group on Money Laundering (APG), a regional body of the FATF that North Korea joined as an observer in July 2014. However, the FATF has blacklisted North Korea, along with Iran. North Korea and Iran are identified by the FATF as being among 13 “high risk and non-cooperative jurisdictions” and the only two for which there is a “call for action.”

The blacklisting entails enhanced monitoring of and restrictions on financial access of North Korean financial institutions by the international financial system, according to Tristan Webb, former senior DPRK research analyst for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom. (Choi, supra.) In addition, according to article 34 of Resolution 2270 of the United Nations Security Council, adopted in March in response to North Korea’s nuclear test of January 6, 2016, “States shall prohibit financial institutions within their territories or subject to their jurisdiction from opening new representative offices or subsidiaries, branches or banking accounts in the DPRK.” Webb noted that even if the DPRK meets the FATF standards, the financial sanctions will not necessarily be lifted.

Adoption of the new Law alone will not lead to full APG membership; North Korea will also have to “reveal annual reports for three years for the purpose of monitoring to judge its sincerity,” according to Rhee Yoojin, a research fellow with the Korea Development Bank based in Seoul. (Id.) On the other hand, although the Law’s adoption does not necessarily mean that North Korea will institute an open door policy or aggressive economic reforms, “it does signify its desire to overcome international sanctions” that have prevented foreign financial organizations from seeking to enter the country, Rhee stated.

UPDATE 9 (2016-5-17): KCNA announces that the DPRK has passed a law on anti-money laundering:

Law on AML/CFT Adopted in DPRK

Pyongyang, May 17 (KCNA) — The Law of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on Anti-Money Laundering and Combating Financing of Terrorism was adopted.

The Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the DPRK promulgated a decree on the adoption of the law on April 20.

The Law on AML/CFT consists of 6 chapters with 40 articles.

Chapter 1 (Articles 1-6) defines the fundamentals of the law such as its objective, principle in the AML/CFT efforts, the establishment of the National Coordinating Committee and the scope of application.

Chapter 2 (Article 7-24) specifies the obligations and principles of reporting institutions concerning the verification of identification data obtained from the customer, establishment of internal reporting system of large or suspicious transactions, reporting large or suspicious transactions and confidentiality.

Affiliation and status of the financial intelligence unit (FIU), obligations and powers of FIU, operation of database, etc. are stipulated in Chapter 3 (Articles 25-28).

Chapter 4 (Articles 29-31) concerning the supervisory and regulatory institutions clarifies the obligations and powers of the Financial Supervisory Bureau, functions of customs and obligations and powers of law enforcement institutions.

Principles in international cooperation, institutions involved in international cooperation, types of international cooperation for AML/CFT purposes are defined in Chapter 5 (Articles 32-34).

Chapter 6 (Articles 35-40) stipulates the property subject to sanctions, complaints in respect of AML/CFT and their settlement.

The Law on Anti-Money Laundering adopted on Oct. 25, Juche 95 (2006) has no binding force any longer, the decree said.

UPDATE 8 (2015-6-29):  FATF says member states should pay “special attention” to financial transactions with North Korea. According to VOA:

The Paris-based Financial Action Task Force last week reaffirmed its earlier decision to put the community country on its watch list because of North Korea’s “failure to address the significant deficiencies in its anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism,” the task force said in a public statement released on its website. It said that failure poses “serious threat … to the integrity of the international financial system.”

The task force had a plenary meeting last week in Brisbane, Australia.

“The FATF reaffirms its 25 February 2011 call on its members and urges all jurisdictions to advise their financial institutions to give special attention to business relationships and transactions with the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea], including DPRK companies and financial institutions,” it said.

The group also expressed concern about the North’s noncompliance with its recommendations to fight money laundering.

In an apparent attempt to ease financial sanctions by the United States and the United Nations, the North promised steps to address money laundering concerns. In July 2014, Pyongyang announced it had joined the Asian affiliate of the anti-money laundering body as an observer. Later, the North sent a letter to the FATF indicating its commitment to implementing actions recommended by the group.

The FATF, created in 1989, has 36 members, comprising 34 member countries and territories and two regional organizations.

UPDATE 7 (2015-3-16): Following the FATFs statement regarding the DPRK on February 27, the US Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued a new advisory.

Read the full advisory here (PDF)

Here is coverage in Yonhap.

UPDATE 6 (2015-2-17): The FATF has issued another statement on North Korea:

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is the global standard setting body for anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT). In order to protect the international financial system from money laundering and financing of terrorism (ML/FT) risks and to encourage greater compliance with the AML/CFT standards, the FATF identified jurisdictions that have strategic deficiencies and works with them to address those deficiencies that pose a risk to the international financial system.

Jurisdictions subject to a FATF call on its members and other jurisdictions to apply counter-measures to protect the international financial system from the on-going and substantial money laundering and terrorist financing (ML/FT) risks emanating from the jurisdictions.

Iran
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)

Jurisdictions with strategic AML/CFT deficiencies that have not made sufficient progress in addressing the deficiencies or have not committed to an action plan developed with the FATF to address the deficiencies. The FATF calls on its members to consider the risks arising from the deficiencies associated with each jurisdiction, as described below.

Algeria
Ecuador
Myanmar

———–
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)

Since October 2014, the DPRK sent a letter to the FATF indicating its commitment to implementing the action plan developed with the FATF.

However, the FATF remains concerned by the DPRK’s failure to address the significant deficiencies in its anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) regime and the serious threat this poses to the integrity of the international financial system. The FATF urges the DPRK to immediately and meaningfully address its AML/CFT deficiencies.

The FATF reaffirms its 25 February 2011 call on its members, and urges all jurisdictions, to advise their financial institutions to give special attention to business relationships and transactions with the DPRK, including DPRK companies and financial institutions. In addition to enhanced scrutiny, the FATF further calls on its members, and urges all jurisdictions, to apply effective counter-measures to protect their financial sectors from ML/FT risks emanating from the DPRK. Jurisdictions should also protect against correspondent relationships being used to bypass or evade counter-measures and risk mitigation practices, and take into account ML/FT risks when considering requests by DPRK financial institutions to open branches and subsidiaries in their jurisdiction.

UPDATE 5 (2015-2-4): NK News picked up the Choson Sinbo piece and offered these comments:

But other regime watchers suggested that there are at least certain segments of the North Korean elite who do indeed want money laundering combated.

“There’s a cohort of DPRK businessmen who want the country to take more active steps in dealing with financial improprieties because they are losing money or opportunities,” said Michael Madden of North Korea Leadership Watch. “The DPRK leadership, particularly Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong, is thinking more long-term on this.”

And Christopher Green of the Daily NK suggested that this was an effort by the North Korean government to not only avoid sanctions, but assert its control over the domestic financial industry by cracking down on money launderers.

“The state wants to bring into its remit all those rogue financial elements that occasionally tend to fall outside the remit of the ruling coalition,” he said. “The state is in a constant battle to stay as top dog in the financial sector in a country where so much is illegal for historical and political reasons – and illegality is always exploited eventually.”

And Daniel Pinkston of the International Crisis Group suggested that the North may have its eye on its northern neighbor with this move.

“I think it will be helpful – from the DPRK perspective – if Pyongyang ever needs to plead their case with Beijing to avoid financial sanctions that include Chinese banks since they are critical for the DPRK’s international financial linkages,” Pinkston said.

Kim Chon Gyun told the Choson Sinbo that the nation’s penal code has already been revised to reflect international standards when punishing money laundering.

UPDATE 4 (2015-2-3): Yonhap reports on the recent Chosun Sinbo article:

North Korea has created a national committee on efforts to fight money laundering and terrorist financing, a senior Pyongyang official confirmed Tuesday.

The communist nation’s move came after it joined the Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering (APG), the Asia-Pacific arm of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) under the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), last year.

“The National Coordinating Committee is an organ to guide projects to prevent money laundering and financing of terrorism,” Kim Chon-gyun, head of North Korea’s central bank said in an interview with the Chosun Sinbo. The newspaper is published by the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, or Chongryon.

The panel, chaired by a deputy premier of the Cabinet, involves officials from the central bank, the foreign ministry, the finance ministry, and law-enforcement authorities, he added.

The North has already revised its penal code to take punitive measures against related violations in accordance with international norms, said Kim.

In January, Pyongyang said that it sent a letter to the FATF, based in Paris, pledging the sincere implementation of an action plan to meet global anti-money laundering standards.

UPDATE 3 (2015-2-3): The Chosun Sinbo has posted an article on anti-money laundering measures in the DPRK. Here is a rough translation:

[Interview] Kim Chon-kyun, the President of the Central Bank of the DPRK, Cooperation with International Organizations for Prevention from Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing.

“Establishment of the National System for Preventing from Illegal Acts”

By Kim Ji-young, reporter from Pyongyang

Kim Chon-kyun, the President of the Central Bank of the DPRK presented, at the interview with the Choson Sinbo, the opposite stance of North Korean government against money laundering and terrorist financing as follows.

“What cannot be allowed according to institutional characteristics”

– A letter from the president of the Central Bank of the DPRK that pledged to implement plans for action for prevention from money laundering and terrorist financing was submitted to Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on Jan 1st. How has the negotiation between North Korea and FATF proceeded?

The implementing recommendations of the plans for action we pledged this time were consented at the negotiation between North Korea and Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering in Cambodia on September 2014.

When looking into the recommendations, it included maintaining cooperative relations such as sharing data and proceeding cooperation with organizations, joining as a member state, devising a means to sanction and to punish on money laundering and terrorist financing, reinforcing the confirmation procedure of traders, establishing financing watching and information business system including reporting surreptitious trade, joining in international agreement, assessing loca, etc. These measurements are, in a word, that we should establish national system to punish severely illegal acts like internal/external money laundering and terrorist financing.

North Korea institutionally does not allow those illegal acts.

Long before such “international standard” appeared, North Korea already set legal, organizational measurement adequate for our society to prevent from money laundering –like acts. This is specifically described on our laws and those regulations have renewed according to the need for development in reality.

It is interesting that the head of the central bank is the point man for this operation because the DPRK’s central bank does not have the authority to hold foreign currency accounts–only accounts denominated in DPRK won. It seems to me that international money laundering should also be of concert to the Foreign Trade Bank, a sanctioned entity that is responsible for managing hard currency deposits in the DPRK.

UPDATE 2 (2015-1-24): According to the Pyongyang Times:

DPRK commits itself to anti-money laundering action plan

The Governor of the DPRK Central Bank on January 15 sent a letter to the Financial Action Task Force on Anti-Money Laundering, assuring it that the country would implement the Action Plan of International Standard for Anti-Money Laundering and Combating the Financing of Terrorism, a spokesman for the DPRK National Coordinating Committee on Anti-Money Laundering and Combating the Financing of Terrorism told KCNA on January 16.

He described this as a manifestation of the DPRK government’s political will based on its consistent stand to step up international cooperation in this field.

Recommendations of the action plan are legislative and organizational measures to criminalize and punish money laundering and financing of terrorism, and almost all of them have long been implemented in the DPRK to suit its actual conditions, according to the spokesman.

The DPRK will sincerely implement the action plan as it has pledged itself for the promotion of mutual understanding with member nations in the face of the obstructive moves of the US and some other countries that are reluctant to cooperate with the international organization, he stated.

He requested the organization to positively respond to the DPRK’s cooperative efforts as it assured in negotiations with the country.

UPDATE 1 (2014-10-24): FATF issues a public statement from Paris that includes the following:

Jurisdictions subject to a FATF call on its members and other jurisdictions to apply counter-measures to protect the international financial system from the on-going and substantial money laundering and terrorist financing (ML/FT) risks emanating from the jurisdictions.

Iran
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)

Since June 2014, the DPRK has further engaged directly with the FATF and APG to discuss its AML/CFT deficiencies. The FATF urges the DPRK to continue its cooperation with the FATF and to provide a high-level political commitment to the action plan developed with the FATF.

The FATF remains concerned by the DPRK’s failure to address the significant deficiencies in its anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) regime and the serious threat this poses to the integrity of the international financial system. The FATF urges the DPRK to immediately and meaningfully address its AML/CFT deficiencies.

The FATF reaffirms its 25 February 2011 call on its members and urges all jurisdictions to advise their financial institutions to give special attention to business relationships and transactions with the DPRK, including DPRK companies and financial institutions. In addition to enhanced scrutiny, the FATF further calls on its members and urges all jurisdictions to apply effective counter-measures to protect their financial sectors from money laundering and financing of terrorism (ML/FT) risks emanating from the DPRK. Jurisdictions should also protect against correspondent relationships being used to bypass or evade counter-measures and risk mitigation practices, and take into account ML/FT risks when considering requests by DPRK financial institutions to open branches and subsidiaries in their jurisdiction.

Here is the web page for FATF. You can learn more about FATF here.

ORIGINAL POST (2014-7-19): North Korea joins OECD anti-money laundering group. According to the JoongAng Daily:

North Korea has joined the Asia Pacific Group on Money Laundering (APG), whose purpose is to prevent funding of terrorism and development of nuclear weapons.

Members of the APG unanimously decided to accept North Korea and Tuvalu as observers during its general meeting held in Macau yesterday.

APG is the Asia Pacific unit of the Financial Action Task Force under the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has 41 member countries including the U.S., South Korea, China and Japan and observers include countries such as Germany, France and the U.K., as well as 27 international organizations such as the Asia Development Bank and World Bank.

Since North Korea has been accepted as an observer, it has to follow several rules including the prevention of money laundering, funding of terrorist organizations or actions, sharing its knowledge and experience and following global regulations and laws.

The APG will decide later whether to elevate North Korea from observer status to a member country once it evaluates Pyongyang based on its annual reports to the organization and visits by the representatives of the group over the next three years.

South Korea and many other members are trying to figure out the motive behind the unexpected move by Pyongyang, because North Korea was previously opposed to joining the APG.

“[North Korea’s motive] is a mystery to us,” said a high ranking government official, who requested anonymity. “We suspect that North Korea, while looking for ways to ease the international financial restrictions imposed on them, decided to show their efforts in improving their global image [by joining the APG].

“But since the lists that they need to follow are long, we will probably have wait and see how sincere and determined they are with their decision.”

In other words, it could be a facade as a way for North Korea to ease the sanctions imposed on it, since the possibility that Pyongyang will give up its nuclear ambitions is low.

The action is particularly suspicious because up until last year’s APG meeting held in Shanghai, North Korea refused to join the organization because of the rule requiring members and observers to follow global standards. North Korea at the time argued that it would join the APG only after the agreement to follow UN resolutions was taken out.

The resolutions include prevention of money laundering, nuclear terrorism and development of nuclear weapons, which is the opposite of the North Korean government’s goal of securing both economic growth and nuclear weapons.

But now, North Korea has agreed to follow all regulations presented by APG.

The tide seemed to have turned as financial sanctions imposed by the international community and led by the U.S. have intensified.

Pyongyang suffered heavily last year after the U.S. and China closed the accounts of the Foreign Trade Bank of North Korea, which was known as the money laundering window for Pyongyang. The money laundered through the trade bank is suspected of being used in funding the regime’s control over the country.

In May, the state-run Bank of China said it had notified the Foreign Trade Bank of North Korea that it was closing all of its accounts and suspending all financial transactions. It did not specify the number of accounts in the bank.

The move came as a shock considering China and North Korea’s strong ties. China was previously the lifeline of North Korea, whose economy has been heavily dependent on its close ally.

Last year wasn’t the first time that North Korea’s accounts have been shut down. In 2005, the U.S. froze North Korea’s accounts at Macau’s Banco Delta Asia, which was a heavy blow to Pyongyang’s ability to secure foreign capital.

The recent change of heart seems to have been triggered by a report by the U.S. State Department in May designating North Korea as a country that is non-cooperative against terror, citing its decision not to join either the FATF or APG.

Although suspicious, the South Korean government isn’t disapproving of the move by the North, as there are positive aspects such as better transparency of Pyongyang’s finances if it conforms to the APG’s regulations.

And if Pyongyang doesn’t follow the rules and loses its license as an observer, the sanctions against North Korea will further tighten.

“North Korean representatives, after their acceptance was approved [in Macau], stressed that they will work on following the APG’s international standards and our [South Korean] government has emphasized the importance of following the resolutions set by the United Nations Security Council,” said a government official.

Read the full story here:
North Korea joins OECD anti-money laundering group
JoongAng Daily
Jung Won-yeop and Park Jin-seok
2014-7-19

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Ryugyong Commercial Bank

Tuesday, January 26th, 2016

Ryugyong-commerical-bank-ATM

Pictured Above (Tongil News): The new Ryugyong Commercial Bank ATM in the Changgwang Inn

UPDATE 2 (2016-5-12): Simon Cockerell has posted a photo to Instagram of a second ATM at the Pyongyang International Airport. This brings the number of known ATMs to two.

UPDATE 1 (2016-2-1): I stumbled on an article from last year the mentions the Ryugyong Commercial Bank. Apparently they have a pre-pay card as well. According to Reuters:

Foreign investors can also set up banks in North Korea and are allowed to lend money and provide credit-based financing schemes to North Korean companies, according to a bilingual book of North Korean law available to foreign investors.

Ryugyong Commercial Bank, for instance, offers shopping discounts as well as gold or silver card options for its customers. As with the Narae card, customers are encouraged to top up their accounts with dollars.

ORIGINAL POST (2016-1-26): Tongil News reports:

Pyongyang, the capital city in North Korea, installed an ATM (automated teller machine) so that people can deposit and withdraw foreign exchange.

A foreigner staying in Pyongyang uploaded a picture of the machine to Instagram three weeks ago with the comment, “I saw an ATM inside of Changgwang Inn near Koryo Hotel for the first time in North Korea”.

The large-screen ATM is operated by the Ryugyong Commercial Bank  (류경상업은행). In Chinese it is called 柳商銀行, which translates to Ryusang Bank (류상은행). Although neither name is generally known, they are appeared to be a joint (cooperative) bank with partners in North Korea and China.

According to this foreigner’s post, the machine allows people to withdrawl various foreign currencies, but not North Korean won. Most users of this ATM tend to draw from accounts abroad.

Some netizens reacted to this post with comments such as “Oh my god, I cannot believe that Pyongyang changed this much.”

“This is the first case that an ATM is found in North Korea,” Professor Im Ul-chul at Kyoungnam University’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies said. “China actually asked North Korea for some help transferring funds for those who travel in North Korea, and it has apparently been realized.”

“It must be a measure for meeting demands of tourists in the country even though it is limited, but it could be improve the quality of banking and finance services inside of North Korea if these types of projects are expanded,” Professor Im told.

“It was observed that Chinese now can use their check cards in North Korea,” a North Korean Tourism specialist pointed out, “the Chinese yuan and the U.S. dollar will grow to dominate North Korea’s society soon.”

This foreigner also introduced the Kwangbok Commercial District (광복상업지구) “loyalty card” and explained “I can get points using this card and purchase goods with those points.” Additionally he mentioned that this card is quite similar to the “Narae” cash card, but it is only used in the Kwangbok Commercial District.

He also replied to another netizen’s question, saying that North Korea sells imported goods in hard currency shops, but there is no case of selling them in its national (state) shops.

Meanwhile, a number of photos featuring North Korea’s official exchange rate and street scenes in Pyongyang on Instagram have been constantly updated. These photos change the past image of closed society.

And in the event that you don’t trust the work of my handy translator, here is the original Korean:

북한의 수도 평양에도 ATM(automated teller machine, 현금 자동 입출금기)이 설치돼 외환을 입출금할 수 있는 것으로 확인됐다.

평양에 주재하고 있는 한 외국인은 3주 전 SNS(사회관계망) ‘인스타그램’에 “고려호텔 인근 창광 숙소에서 처음으로 ATM을 보았다”며 사진을 함께 게재했다.

ATM은 한자로는 ‘류상은행(柳商銀行)’, 영자로는 ‘류경상업은행(Ryugyong Commercial Bank)’이 운용하는 것으로 돼 있으며, 큰 화면을 제공하고 있다. ‘류상은행’이나 ‘류경상업은행’은 알려져 있지 않지만, 류경이 평양의 옛이름인 점으로 미루어 보아 북중 합작은행일 가능성이 높아 보인다.

이 외국인은 북한 원화를 제외한 다양한 외화를 교환할 수 있고, 대부분 이용자들은 해외로부터 송금을 받는 용도로 사용한다고 밝혔다.

이 포스팅에는 “이럴 수가, 평양이 엄청 변하고 있네요. 믿을 수가 없군요”라는 댓글이 달리기도 했다.

임을출 경남대 극동문제연구소 교수는 “북한에 ATM이 등장했다는 것은 처음 접한다”며 “지난해부터 중국 측에서 북한 여행객들을 위한 송금 편의를 북측에 요구한 것으로 아는데, 이것이 실현된 것으로 보인다”고 말했다.

임 교수는 “제한적이기는 하지만 늘어나는 관광객 수요에 부응하기 위한 조치로 받아들여지고, 이러한 추세가 확대되면 북한 내에서의 금융 서비스의 질을 높일 계기가 될 수 있는 새로운 변화”라고 평가했다.

한 북한관광 전문가는 “중국인들이 주로 사용하는 현금(체크)카드를 북한에서도 쓸 수 있게 된 것으로 관측된다”며 “북한에서 달러화와 함께 위안화의 지배력이 커져 갈 것으로 예상된다”고 짚었다.

이 외국인은 다른 포스팅에서 ‘광복상업지구’ 회원카드(loyalty card) 사진을 게시하고 “포인트를 모을 수 있고 포인트로 구매도 가능하다”고 소개했다. 아울러 이 카드는 북한에서 통용되고 있는 ‘나래’ 현금카드와도 유사하지만 광복상업지구에서만 통용된다고 덧붙였다.

또한 다른 유저의 질문에 북한에서 상품 홍보를 위해 수입상품 등을 할인판매도 하지만 국영상점에서는 할인하는 경우가 없다고 전했다.

한편, 인스타그램 등 SNS 상에는 북한의 환율과 평양 풍경 등이 거의 실시간으로 올라오고 있어, 폐쇄된 북한의 이미지도 과거에 묻히게 됐다.

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Kim Jong-un announces need for financial reform

Monday, December 14th, 2015

(Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein)

The first meeting for 25 years of North Korean banking and finance officials was held a few weeks ago, Yonhap reported:

The Third National Conference of Financial and Banking Officials held on Sunday at the People’s Palace of Culture in Pyongyang was reported by the (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and Korean Central TV, monitored in Seoul.

“The conference reviewed successes and experience gained by those in the field of finance and banking in the past,” the KCNA said in an English report carried on Sunday.

The meeting also discussed ways to ensure “the financial guarantee for building a thriving nation,” according to the state media.

In a letter sent to the conference, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un highlighted the important role of the financial sector for national development.

“To improve financial and banking work is an inevitable demand for hastening the building of a thriving nation,” Kim was quoted as saying in the letter. “Reliable financial resources are necessary to build the people’s paradise featured by strong national power and great prosperity.”

Kim also ordered “revolutionary measures for steady development” of the financial system, as well as “fluent circulation of currency.”

It was North Korea’s first meeting of its kind since the last second session was held in September 1990 under the leadership of late leader and North Korean founder Kim II-sung.

Read the full article:
N.Korea hosts 1st bankers’ meeting in 25 yrs
Yonhap News
2015-12-14

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3rd National Conference of Financial and Banking Officials Held

Sunday, December 13th, 2015

UPDATE 2 (2015-12-14): Yonhap reports on the meeting:

North Korea held its third conference of financial and banking officials over the weekend, resuming the rare event after a 25-year hiatus in what could be an emerging sign that the country’s economy has climbed out of the level of subsistence and is gearing up for financial reform.

The Third National Conference of Financial and Banking Officials held on Sunday at the People’s Palace of Culture in Pyongyang was reported by the (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and Korean Central TV, monitored in Seoul.

“The conference reviewed successes and experience gained by those in the field of finance and banking in the past,” the KCNA said in an English report carried on Sunday.

The meeting also discussed ways to ensure “the financial guarantee for building a thriving nation,” according to the state media.

In a letter sent to the conference, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un highlighted the important role of the financial sector for national development.

“To improve financial and banking work is an inevitable demand for hastening the building of a thriving nation,” Kim was quoted as saying in the letter. “Reliable financial resources are necessary to build the people’s paradise featured by strong national power and great prosperity.”

Kim also ordered “revolutionary measures for steady development” of the financial system, as well as “fluent circulation of currency.”

It was North Korea’s first meeting of its kind since the last second session was held in September 1990 under the leadership of late leader and North Korean founder Kim II-sung.

A host of Cabinet and party officials attended the conference, including Pak Pong-ju, premier of the Cabinet; defense chief Pak Yong-sik; Finance Minister Ki Kwang-ho; and central bank chief Kim Chon-gyun, according to the KCNA.

Under the Kim Jong-un regime, the reclusive country has gotten out of extreme poverty and seems to be gearing up for a radical reform of its financial sector, Cho Bong-hyun, researcher at the state-run Industrial Bank of Korea (IBK), said of the latest meeting.

“The plan intends to reform the banking system so as to make it a window for luring in foreign currency and boosting the circulation of money,” Cho noted.

The country is now in the process of mapping out a financial reform plan with guidance from China, and it may create a reform policy out of it and officially announce the policy possibly in the general party meeting set for May next year, he added.

UPDATE 1 (2015-12-13): According to KCNA:

There took place the third national conference of financial and banking officials at the People’s Palace of Culture on Sunday.

The conference reviewed successes and experience gained by those in the field of finance and banking in the past and discussed the tasks for reliably ensuring the financial guarantee for the building of a thriving nation and ways to do so.

Present at the conference were Pak Pong Ju, Pak Yong Sik, O Su Yong, Vice-Premiers of the Cabinet Ro Tu Chol, Ri Mu Yong and Ri Chol Man, Minister of Finance Ki Kwang Ho, President of the Central Bank Kim Chon Gyun, President of the Foreign Trade Bank of the DPRK Kim Song Ui, leading officials of commissions, ministries, national institutions, provinces, cities and counties and exemplary financial and banking officials and persons of merit.

Pak Pong Ju, member of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the WPK and premier of the Cabinet, read out the letter of Marshal Kim Jong Un to the participants in the conference “Let Us Dynamically Accelerate the Building of a Thriving Nation by Bringing about a Turn in Financial and Banking Work”.

In the letter Kim Jong Un said the financial and banking work in the DPRK has steadily developed, financially guaranteeing the socialist construction and the people’s material and cultural life under the deep care and leadership of President Kim Il Sung and leader Kim Jong Il.

The President set forth the unique idea of finance and banking which embodied the principle of the Juche idea and established the advantageous Korean-style financial and banking management system for solving all the problems arising in the financial and banking work in line with the independent demand and interests of the popular masses, the letter said, and went on:

Kim Jong Il developed in depth the Juche-oriented idea and theory of finance and banking of the President to provide the guidelines for improving the financial and banking work and established the party’s leadership system on the work and took revolutionary measures for the steady development of the financial and banking system.

To improve the financial and banking work is an inevitable demand for hastening the building of a thriving nation. Reliable financial resources are necessary to build the people’s paradise featured by strong national power and great prosperity.

It is necessary to financially guarantee the party’s Songun revolutionary leadership and the building of a thriving socialist nation by consolidating the financial foundations of the country and ensuring fluent circulation of currency. This is the general task for the financial and banking field.

The financial and banking officials should always bear in mind the deep trust and expectation of the party and successfully fulfill their lofty duty before the country and people and bring about a fresh turn in the financial and banking work.

Ro Tu Chol, alternate member of the Political Bureau of the WPK Central Committee and vice-premier of the Cabinet and chairman of the State Planning Commission, made a report.

He said that Kim Jong Un saw to it that the conference was held, and sent the letter to indicate the orientation and ways for improving the financial and banking work.

All the successes in the financial and banking work are a precious fruition of the undying efforts of the great leaders and the wise leadership of Kim Jong Un, the reporter noted.

He called for firmly establishing the monolithic leadership system of Kim Jong Un and orientating the financial and banking work to implementing the line and policy of the party.

Speeches were made at the conference.

ORIGINAL POST (2015-12-18): North Korea to Hold National Financial Bank Workers Assembly for the First Time in 25 years (Institute for Far Eastern Studies):

North Korea will host the “National Financial Bank Workers Assembly” for the first time in 25 years. This may be interpreted as the regime’s effort to pursue economic development through restructuring the financial system, as living conditions for the people and financial situation have improved since the start of the Kim Jong Un regime.

According to the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on December 10, “Participants at the third National Financial Bank Workers Assembly paid respect to comrades Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun.” The news did not mention the date, place, or the size of this event.

However, it is customary for participants ahead of a big event to visit and pay respect to Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il by visiting the palace.

The “National Financial Bank Workers Assembly” was last held in September 1990 during the Kim Il Sung era. It was never held during Kim Jong Il’s rule.

It is likely that North Korea is holding this assembly as the food security issue has improved relatively over the last 25 years, and it seems to reflect the regime’s intention to establish the official financial system.

The North Korean economy has demonstrated modest growth after Kim Jong Un’s decision to expand economic zones and acknowledge enterprise management autonomy, among other market-related measures.

In particular, with the emergence of the nouveau riche or ‘donju’ (meaning ‘masters of money’), financial transactions have been increasing, hence the need for new measures to bring about improvements in banking institutions.

For the upcoming 7th Party Congress in May 2016, tangible results in sectors of the economy must be made and this may be a contributing factor to hold the “National Financial Bank Workers Assembly,” as the regime may seek to construct large buildings and various infrastructures through the use of finances from banks.

North Korea has reportedly been promoting computerization of the financial system. The country has also sent more than 40 people from the Ministry of External Economic Affairs to Southeast Asia to receive training in microfinance.

The function of banks has weakened since the late 1990s’ “arduous march” period. But with the launch of the Kim Jong Un regime, the need for normalization of the financial system was proposed along with gradual improvement in the economy. However, it is uncertain to what degree banks will earn people’s confidence. Nevertheless, through this assembly, North Korea is likely to create a means to strengthen the role of official financial institutions.

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Sangyon e-commerce system introduced (and Jonsong Card)

Tuesday, September 8th, 2015

KCNA issued a story today that raised some eyebrows:

Electronic Commerce System ‘Sangyon’ Introduced in DPRK

Pyongyang, September 8 (KCNA) — The Institute of the Commercial Science in the DPRK developed “Sangyon”, an electronic commerce system.

The system makes it possible to ensure business through local network with credit card issued by the Central Bank.

This 24-hour service system has already been introduced to the West Pyongyang Department Store and many other commercial units, winning popularity among its users.

The reason this story raised eyebrows was the mention of a “credit card”. I had to go to the original Korean article to see if the word “credit card” was ever used.  Here is the original Korean:

(평양 9월 8일발 조선중앙통신)

조선에서 전자상업체계 《상연》이 개발되여 봉사활동에 도입되고있다.

상업과학연구소에서 내놓은 이 체계는 국가콤퓨터망을 통하여 상품소개 및 판매,상업정보소개를 진행하는 전자결제방식의 상업봉사체계이다.

이 체계는 중앙은행에서 발행하는 《전성》카드를 리용하여 손님들이 상점에 가지 않고도 필요한 상품에 대한 검색과

주문,카드를 리용한 전자결제와 송달을 받을수 있게 한다.

손님들의 상품수요를 실시간적으로 장악하여 생산단위들에 맞물려준다.

전국적범위에서 상업발전추세에 맞게 무현금류통을 늘이고 상품구입의 편리성을 도모해주는 전자상업체계는 24시간 봉사하고있다.

서평양백화점을 비롯한 많은 단위에 도입되여 사용자들로부터 호평을 받고있는 전자상업체계는 계속 확대도입되고있다.(끝)

The Korean report is quite different from the English version. It says that they have developed an e-commerce system called Sangyong 《상연》. On this system, available 24-hours a day no less, companies can list products, provide information, and consumers can actually make purchases for delivery. This system accepts the Jonsong card [《전성》카드] (a pre-pay card issued by the Central Bank in local currency) for payment.

UPDATE (2016-3-10): Simon Cockerell has posted a photo of a Jonsong Card to his Instagram Account:

Jonsong-Card

The Institute for Far Eastern Studies (2015-8-28) had this to say about the Jonsong Card:

Use of electronic payment cards expands in North Korea

It appears that the use of electronic payment cards in North Korea is spreading as North Korea’s central bank releases a new payment card. Photos of the card (called ‘Jonsong’) have been uploaded to social networking sites like Instagram and Facebook by foreigners currently in North Korea. The card is issued by the Central Bank of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (hereafter ‘North Korea Central Bank’).

Until now, North Korean’s primary credit cards have been the ‘Narae’ card, issued by the North Korea Foreign Trade Bank in 2010, and the ‘Koryo’ card, issued by Koryo Bank in 2011. ‘Narae,’ a foreign currency debit card, can be used at locations like hotels or foreign currency shops after card-owners load it with foreign currency at a bank; the affiliate card ‘Koryo’ can be used when paying for services or products at shops that have a payment system and deal in foreign currency.

Recently, Yonhap News released a photo of the electronic payment card ‘Sonbong,’ reporting that the card is now in use. The card is issued by the Golden Triangle Bank and can be used in the Rason Special Economic Zone. Both the Sonbong and Narae cards feature a yellow electronic chip on the front of the card. In contrast, North Korea Central Bank’s recently confirmed Chonsong card does not display such a chip and contains a red and blue diamond-shaped design in the lower right-hand corner.

It has not yet been confirmed whether this is a general electronic payment card or if it is intended for specific purposes. In a February 2015 interview with the Japan-based Choson Sinbo, the president of North Korea Central Bank revealed, “North Korea Central Bank is focusing on satisfying the capital requirements that arise in a country’s economic construction by turning over domestic funds more smoothly […] As part of that effort, it is pushing forward the development of new financial products as well as the use of cards in people’s daily lives.”

It is estimated that approximately 4 billion dollars are circulated and held privately by North Korean citizens. As a step to legalize that currency, it is widely known that North Korea implemented the ‘cooperative currency system’ (effective March 1, 2013), inducing individuals and agencies to open and use foreign currency accounts and actively encouraging the use of cards.

These days, foreigners visiting North Korea pay for hotel rooms, taxi fares, and other products with the Narae card after charging it with foreign currency.

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Golden Triangle Bank pre-pay cards

Tuesday, August 11th, 2015

Aram Pan visited the new Golden Triangle Bank building (it has recently moved offices) in Rason and took some interesting pictures of the interior.

DPRK-360-golden-triangle-1 DPRK-360-golden-triangle-2

DPRK-360-golden-triangle-3 DPRK-360-golden-triangle-4

However, my favorite is probably the giant pile of new US $100 notes:

GTB-DPRK-360-cash

That looks like $1.8 million to me. When was the last time you saw that much cash sitting on a counter?

Mr. Pan also shows that the Golden Triangle Bank has established a pre-pay card (similar to the Narae Card or the Koryo Bank Card). I say “pre-pay card” (not debit card) because a debit card is linked to a personal account whereas a pre-pay card is drawn from a bank-owned account. I do not suspect that card holders have actually opened personal accounts at these banks but have instead topped off a card that draws from a bank-owned account (In other words, I don’t think it is easy to get your cash back, and the bank earns the float from investing the currency while the card holder carries a positive balance).

GTB-card-DPRK360-2015

Mr. Pan claims to have put RMB25 into his account, which can be spent in the Rason SEZ, but not outside of it.

Here is a closeup of the front and back of the card:

Golden-Triangle-Bank-Debit-card-2015-edited

 

Here is a translation of the card:

GTB-debit-card-translation

“Seon Bong” is how a South Korean translates “Sonbong”.

The card appears to be equipped with an EMV chip. I am not sure how that works.

UPDATE (2015-8-17): The Daily Mail did a follow up piece here.

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Private finance in the DPRK

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015

According to the Wall Street Journal:

For decades after North Korea’s founding in the 1950s, financial security wasn’t a major concern for its citizens. A communist system provided most daily needs, and for many years living standards outstripped those of South Korea.

Then a devastating famine in the 1990s and a subsequent economic collapse crippled the public distribution system and forced citizens to fend for themselves.

The semimarket economy that emerged has expanded rapidly in recent years, providing a living for up to three-fourths of the country, according to observers, defectors and those with contacts in a state that is largely closed off from the rest of the world. As unauthorized private commerce has bolstered North Koreans’ incomes, an unregulated system of lending and currency exchange has also emerged, they said.

“People are investing and are making money,” says Kim Young-hui, a former North Korean banking official and an analyst on the North Korean economy at KDB Bank in Seoul. Observers such as Ms. Kim, who left North Korea in 2003, say refugees from all provinces have reported private lending activities in their respective hometowns.

There is no reliable study to measure precisely how much money is flowing in and out of the country, observers and defectors say, and North Koreans remain excluded from anything close to a modern financial system. There are no commercial banks and little trust in the state for economic security.

Defectors’ accounts depict a system in which private savings are being funneled into lending to generate a profit, but without any legal framework or guarantee on investments. Scams occurred in the early years but in the last three years, a culture of credit has settled in, says Lim Eul-chul, a professor at Kyungnam University’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies in Seoul who studies the North Korean economy.

“As businesses expand, the importance of credit goes up. Now you are doing business with more than just people you know,” said Mr. Lim, adding that friends or family often guarantee payment.

According to observers and defector accounts, some North Korean lenders and investors are funding seed and fertilizer purchases in return for a cut from the following year’s harvest, or lending money to merchants to import goods that range from apples to Italian luxury goods. They are borrowing and lending with interest, dodging North Korea’s ban on usury. Even state traders are borrowing money from them, some defectors say.

Pawn shops have opened up under official blessing and people leave anything of value for small loans, they say. Some private-property ownership, such as apartments, has been allowed since 1998, and some lenders independently appraise the value of real-estate properties to collateralize larger loans. A default on a loan can lead to confiscation of goods by the private lenders, they say.

It is impossible to independently verify accounts of private commerce and lending inside the reclusive country. But since taking power at the end of 2011, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un has promised to improve living standards and appears to have taken a relatively laissez-faire approach to market activity.

Such activity—from selling toothpaste to buying 3G-enabled smartphones on the street—still isn’t officially allowed in North Korea, but the regime often turns a blind eye to the commerce, some observers say. The regime even appears to be collecting some money from the activity, in the forms of bribes to authorities or fees for securing a market stall, they said.

North Korea observers such as Andrei Lankov, a professor at Kookmin University in Seoul, say that between half and three-quarters of North Korea’s household income comes from the private sector. Those who have some money aren’t just lending, they are opening up restaurants, computer stores, karaoke shops or communal bathhouses. Private taxi and delivery services have emerged in recent years.

Those who engage in commerce are reaching consumers and intermediaries more than before, thanks to the recent proliferation of cellphones. Buyers and sellers no longer have to exchange cash in person, they can tell their financiers to settle the bill.

The regime has kept track of these developments and has tried to regulate private wealth, albeit with little success, some observers say.

Trust in the state took a heavy blow following a 2009 currency devaluation that caused a panic over the sudden loss of wealth. The policy damaged the flourishing black market and reinforced the public’s preference for foreign currency. Now, most private deals are in U.S. dollars and Chinese renminbi, observers say.

“In large cities like Chongjin [a port near the northeastern tip of North Korea where China and Russia meet], it’s 100% renminbi,” says one former North Korean farmer, who fled to South Korea in 2013.

A recent attempt by the regime to introduce a degree of personal finance came with the introduction of a card-payment system. Kim Chon Gyun, president of the central bank, told Japan-based newspaper Choson Sinbo in February that North Korea is working to fuel economic development by “smoothly circulating internal capital.”

Mr. Kim said the country was developing an unspecified “new financial product” and was encouraging the use of bank cards in ordinary people’s lives, in a rare public disclosure of economic policy.

Peoples’ accounts vary, but they say North Korea since 2011 has been issuing at least two kinds of chip-bearing plastic cards that allow users to load domestic or foreign currencies. The cards can be used for payment at some stores, and the salaries of some government officials appear to be wired to such accounts, they say. They are being used in provinces as well as in the capital.

But some observers say the system’s adoption among ordinary citizens appears low, and its success is contingent upon conditions such as a guarantee of deposit and the regime’s assurance that the origin of the money won’t face scrutiny.

Read the full story here:
North Korea’s Private Finance: No Banks but Lots of Loans
Jeyup S. Kwaak
Wall Street Journal
2015-8-4

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North Korean workers in the Middle East

Friday, July 3rd, 2015

According to the Choson Ilbo:

North Korea used civilian passenger planes to transport hard currency seized from expat laborers in the Middle East following the closure of its overseas banks for violating international law.

Sources said since prosecutors in Kuwait ordered the closure of the local branch of North Korea’s Trade Bank on charges of money laundering and illicit transfers, the North has used twice-monthly Air Koryo flights to Kuwait to ferry seized wages back to the North.

There are 50,000 to 60,000 North Korean laborers in 16 countries. In Kuwait, there have been some 4,000 since 1995, toiling at construction sites and receiving around W1 million a month (US$1=W1,123), of which the regime confiscates 70 to 80 percent.

The workers send the remainder back to their families in the North and often survive by begging or taking on overtime and extra menial jobs.

Around 2,000 North Koreans work in the United Arab Emirates and 1,800 in Qatar.

Sources said the bank’s Kuwait branch has sent back more than US$1 billion to North Korea over the last 20 years confiscated from laborers.

The bank has been blacklisted by the U.S. government for funding the development of weapons of mass destruction, and the local branch had been under investigation by Kuwaiti authorities over the last two years. Kuwaiti prosecutors seized around $1 million from the branch on suspicion of money laundering.

According to sources, North Korea has filed a lawsuit in order to recover the seized money.

One source said officials from companies supplying North Korean workers now board Air Koryo planes with suitcases stuffed with cash, while laborers are sending back money to their families through ordinary passengers.

“Air Koryo has become a new channel used to transport tens of millions of dollars of money to the Workers Party,” which runs the bank, the source said.

Read the full story here:
N.Korea Uses Civilian Airliners to Haul Hard Currency
Choson Ilbo
2015-7-3

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